HC Deb 01 March 1951 vol 484 cc2340-92
Mr. H. Macmillan

I beg to move, in page 4, line 37, at the end, to insert: Provided that in any proceedings for an offence under this subsection it shall be a reasonable excuse that the person concerned had claimed in the prescribed manner that he should be exempted from the service specified in the notice by reason of conscientious objection or of exceptional domestic or business hardship and that such claim had not been determined or had been determined in his favour before the day specified in the notice. This Amendment, which is more or less self-explanatory, is intended to introduce a proviso by which, if there is an appeal or a determination in course of being, that shall be accepted as a reasonable excuse in the case of the absence of the person concerned. I understand from what the Secretary of State has been good enough to inform me, that he intends, perhaps in somewhat different words, to accept the principle of this Amendment, and therefore I shall not delay the Committee further.

Mr. A. Henderson

The object which the framers of this Amendment have in mind is one which meets with the entire sympathy of the Government. For technical reasons, however, I suggest an alternative form of words, to the following effect: Provided that in any proceedings for an offence under this subsection it shall be a defence for the defendant to prove that, in accordance with the arrangements in that behalf made by the Service Authority and notified to him before the service of the notice under this section, he had duly applied for exemption from liability to he called up under the foregoing section, either generally or as respects any period including the day specified in the notice under this section served on him, and that he had not before that day been notified that the application had been refused. This suggested alternative form of words completely covers the desires of the framers of the Amendment, and therefore I ask them to accept it.

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

On a point of order, Sir Charles. Do I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend will move this alternative Amendment himself at some later stage, and is asking the right hon. Gentleman opposite to withdraw his Amendment? What is the procedure?

The Deputy-Chairman

The Amendment of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) has been moved, and the Secretary of State has made a statement about a new one, but whether it will be moved or not I do not know. It has not been moved yet.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I should like some explanation of the procedure proposed, Sir Charles.

My right hon. and learned Friend has read a form of words which, I understand, is to be an alternative Amendment to that of the right hon. Gentleman. I submit that it is quite impossible for the Committee now to accept this alternative form of words. We have not been able to follow it clearly in listening to it; we do not have it on paper before us. Therefore, if this alternative form of words is to be accepted, it must be brought forward on the Report stage or at a later stage of the Committee in written form.

The Deputy-Chairman

Perhaps I should remind the hon. Member that that course would force a Report stage; otherwise, we might not have a Report stage.

Mr. H. Macmillan

It is not we on this side who are trying to make all this haste; it is owing to the long delays that have surrounded this whole affair. It seems to me that the simplest procedure is that I should ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. I accept entirely in good faith that the new Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman means the same thing in better drafting. We all know that Ministers never accept Amendments in the words in which they are put down. It is common form to titivate them up a little to show that the Department concerned has got to work on them. If that is agreed and I withdraw the Amendment now, then on Report stage the right hon. and learned Gentleman can put down his Amendment. If by any chance there is disagreement—

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. If the right hon. Gentleman withdraws his Amendment, it will be necessary to have a Report stage to consider the suggested Amendment of the Secretary of State for Air.

Mr. Macmillan

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes now to move his proposal as a manuscript Amendment —that is what it is, although he has had the great courtesy to distribute a number of typescript copies in the short time available—that is acceptable to me if it is acceptable to the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If it is not acceptable, the only procedure is for me to withdraw my Amendment on the understanding that it will be moved at a later date. I am entirely in the hands of the Committee.

The Deputy-Chairman

Perhaps I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that without the Amendment of the Secretary of State for Air it is possible that there will not be a Report stage.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devon-port)

Before the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) withdraws his Amendment, may we have some indication from the Government whether this procedure will arise on any other of the Amendments which have been put down? We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that having put down his Amendment, he was informed by the Government that it was to be accepted in some form or other. We on this side have never been told whether it was to be accepted or not. There has even been a suggestion that some alternative form of words was circulated in typescript to certain Members, but they have not been circulated to us in this part of the Committee. Therefore, could we have an assurance or an indication from my right hon. and learned Friend whether this procedure is to be followed on any other Amendment? His answer might determine the action which we take on the Clause.

Mr. A. Henderson

I reassure my hon. Friend that that procedure certainly will not be followed in respect of Clause 6, if that is the matter about which he is concerned. There will be what is in effect a procedural Amendment on Clause 4.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I agree with you, Sir Charles, that if the Committee would agree, it would really be better that the Amendment should be moved and carried, because in the event of no Amendment being accepted, which is quite possible, there would not be a Report stage. Carrying the Amendment, involves the possibility of a Report stage and any points can be raised at a later date. If the Amendment were merely withdrawn, the point might never again be covered. Therefore, it would be in the interests of the Committee, Sir Charles, to follow what you have suggested. In fairness to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I ought to say that he handed me a piece of paper as I entered the Committee a few moments ago. Although I can understand that the coalition of courtesy between the two Front Benches is very distasteful to the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), we are guilty in this case, and, as the Bill proceeds we may be guiltier yet.

Mr. Leslie Hale

If right hon. Gentlemen are to be guilty again, then I think the time has come when we should know what is our position in the Committee. We have been trying to ascertain the intentions of the Government on this matter. Every Member of the Committee has a right to ascertain the intentions of His Majesty's Government on a Bill which is being presented in such a way that it was being said, "We are trying to take Committee, Report stage and Third Reading on one day"; so that we did not know whether Amendments were to be tabled on the Report stage or whether we should have to submit manuscript Amendments on that stage.

I am in the House of Commons as representing Oldham, West, and I yield to no Member of the House in importance on behalf of my constituents. [Interruption.] I am speaking with sincerity. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for moving the Amendment. I think it is a very good Amendment, and I want it, or the alternative Amendment, which I have not read, understood or followed, to be in the Bill.

This position really is difficult. It is not a small matter for somebody to get up and say, "One or two of us have had a look at the Amendment and think it is right, and we will read it to the Committee. What do the back benchers matter if the two Front Benches agree? Why should we go into this in any detail?" This is a gross discourtesy to those of us who have taken an active interest in the Bill, who are anxious to follow its progress, who have approached Members of the Government and have tried to ascertain in due form and with due propriety what would happen today. We have had no information at all, and are now asked to take a decision on a matter of which we have not heard anything.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Shinwell)

Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will acquit me of any desire to enter into the merits of the question, at this stage at any rate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because I do not believe the merits of the question arise at this stage. All that I am concerned with is the procedural point that has emerged. May I venture to say, without any condescension, that it will be within the recollection of many hon. Members who have been in the House for years that what we are now doing is common form.

Mr. S. Silverman


Mr. Shinwell

I have a longer experience of the House than have some of my hon. Friends—

Mr. Leslie Hale

I have been here for six years.

Mr. Shinwell

—and I am well aware of what the procedure has been over a long period. I assure my hon. Friends that it is quite common form to submit manuscript Amendments on the Committee stage. That has happened over and over again.

Mr. H. Macmillan

Hear, hear.

Mr. Shinwell

I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale), with his astute mind and his grasp of procedure in the House of Commons, is in opposition to the point that I now raise.

Mr. Hale

I did not say that at all. I assure my right hon. Friend that I did not say it.

Mr. Shinwell

I shall come to the other point which my hon Friend has raised. The right hon Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillian), quite properly, on behalf of the Opposition, placed an Amendment on the Order Paper, but having been informed—this is again common form—by the Government that we prefer an alternative form of words which we regard as quite consistent with the principle embodied in the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, we have asked him to withdraw his Amendment or, alternatively, to have it negatived, which could be done, and then for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Air to present his alternative Amendment to the Committee. That is all. If that alternative Amendment which my right hon. and learned Friend wishes to present is not presented, then obviously it cannot be dealt with on the Report stage. That of course is well known to hon. Members.

In the course of the discussions which would quite properly ensue—this is the point which may satisfy my hon. Friend —on the presentation of my right hon. and learned Friend's alternative Amendment—

The Deputy-Chairman

I should like to point out, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that as the two Amendments are to the same effect, if the first is negatived, then I cannot call the second because it deals with the same point on which a decision had already been reached.

Mr. Shinwell

I naturally bow to the Ruling of the Chair and to the correct procedure. Perhaps I should have confined myself to saying, "if the right hon. Gentleman withdrew his Amendment." I was about to remark that in the course of the discussion which would ensue on the presentation of the Amendment by my right hon. and learned Friend the point would be clarified, and if my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee felt that further clarification was necessary obviously my right hon. and learned Friend would be only too happy to meet them.

Mr. S. Silverman

I confess at once that my right hon. Friend has been longer in the House than I have—considerably longer—and therefore naturally ought to understand the common form and procedure better than I do and better, if I may say so with respect, than he seems to do. It seems to me that he has completely misconceived the point of the protest that has been made. The protest that was being made was as to the giving of prior information of what the proposed manuscript Amendment was to be to a selected number of hon. Members and not at all to those who were most interested in the point. Obviously it works very unsatisfactorily and the reason why the method adopted by my right hon. Friend is not, as he seems to think, the common form, is because, if it were the common form, it could not work.

It could only work provided the Committee, not the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, were content. In the way my right hon. Friend puts it forward it just could not work. As has been pointed out already by you, Sir Charles, if the Committee negatived the Amendment on the Order Paper then no manuscript Amendment amounting to much the same thing and differing only verbally could possibly be called. The only way in which my right hon. and learned Friend's Amendment could get into the Bill at this stage would be if the Amendment on the Order Paper were withdrawn. [Interruption.] I was about to point out, what I am sure my right hon. Friend has inadvertently forgotten, that it is the Committee which can consent to the withdrawal of an Amendment and not the mover. If any hon. Member were to object to the Amendment on the Order Paper being withdrawn it could not be withdrawn and would either have to be passed, or negatived, and in that case my right hon. and learned Friend's Amendment would never come before the Committee.

It is in order to avoid that kind of proceeding that the common form is not to give it to some selected hon. Members because they have the inestimable advantage and preference by the Government of being generally opposed to their policy all the way—that being what an Opposition is for—but communicated also to those who generally support the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] who generally support the Government but on this particular aspect of this particular matter have the same anxieties, very largely, as are shared by some hon. Members opposite. Therefore, convenience as well as common courtesy demand that if there is to be notice of a manuscript Amendment, it shall be given either to no one beforehand, or to all those who might conceivably be deemed to be interested.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I wish to say a word as one who very much dislikes manuscript Amendments. A long manuscript Amendment is often hard on the ordinary Private Member and I know of many instances in which even the Chair has taken very strong objection to long manuscript Amendments. There is a very easy way out of this difficulty. The Government could accept this Amendment, which would then be passed on the understanding that the Government will make the verbal amendments to it on Report stage. That is a simple proceeding and it is quite clear in the usual House of Commons procedure. I suggest that because I believe there is a grave difficulty in regard to a manuscript Amendment. There has been a perfectly fair objection and my suggestion would enable the Government to carry out the wishes of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan).

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

That is an alternative method which we could employ if the Committee so desired. We are anxious to meet the views of the Committee and, if that is the general view, we can accept it.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly did not intend any discourtesy to anyone, but I thought it not desirable to waste the time of the Committee in arguing a case when we are forcing an open door. I hope we can pass this Amendment and that the Government will put down their amending words at a later stage.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

I beg to move, in page 4, line 37, at the end, to insert: Provided always that no person shall be prosecuted more than once under the provisions of this subsection. It may serve the convenience of the Committee and save time if it were possible to consider with this Amendment the similar Amendment I have down to Clause 3, page 6, line 15. Both Amendments deal with the same principle.

The Deputy-Chairman

Perhaps it would be of help to the hon. Member if I say that I was not purposing to call the later Amendment, so we cannot discuss it now.

Mr. Brockway

As the principle is the same in each case, I can still deliver the speech I have prepared. The purpose of this Amendment is to safeguard conscientious objectors from what is known as "cat and mouse" treatment. I want to acknowledge in this House that this country has gone further in meeting conscientious objection than any country in the world and that I have found in other countries not only admiration but sometimes almost astonishment at the degree to which Parliament in this country has been prepared to consider the genuine conscientious objection of men and women to military service.

In saying that I want to include all parts of the House. I do not forget the plea which Lord Hugh Cecil made years ago. I do not forget the quite consistent stand which has been made on the Liberal benches, and I do not forget the impression which Mr. Creech Jones made on this matter when he described to the House the repeated punishments which conscientious objectors suffered and which he illustrated from his own experience. I am perfectly sure that it is the desire in all parts of the Committee that if we can safeguard objectors from repeated punishment for what after all is in essence one offence we should try to introduce words into this Bill which will secure that result.

When I raised this matter on Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for War said that he could give no guarantee regarding men whose objection on conscientious grounds was not upheld by a tribunal. I submit to him that it is those very men who are concerned. We have, for example, the statement by Mr. Creech Jones about how he had been refused exemption by a tribunal, how he had been arrested, had been punished once, had been taken back to the Army and had been punished again, and how there was that repetitive punishment. I do not ask the Committee to accept my own experience in this respect, but I believe every Member of the Committee will recognise the sincerity of a man such as Mr. Creech Jones. I am, therefore, asking that even when a man has been refused recognition by the tribunal—and the task of the tribunal in recognising genuineness in this matter is very difficult—he shall be punished only once for an offence which, though it may be repeated, is in essence only one offence.

The case covered by this Amendment is that of a man who, not judged genuine by the tribunal, nevertheless decides that because of his convictions he must disobey orders. The first order he receives is to undergo a medical examination. Very often such a man takes the view, and I respect that view, that even though he might be rejected on medical grounds he does not intend to shirk the issue in that way. He says that he wishes to be judged on conscience as it is to him a matter of principle, and he refuses the order to be medically examined. He is punished for that, and when he has been liberated he may again be asked to report for medical examination or he may be called up. So the repetition of offences and punishments may continue until the operation of this Bill ends at the end of this year.

My plea to the Government is that they should give an assurance, if this matter is to remain an administrative one, that these repeated punishments shall not take place for what is in essence one offence. My plea also is that if, as I hope, we succeed in securing the acceptance of Amendments to this Bill which give a statutory right of conscientious objection, there shall be included a provision to prevent a repetition of punishment for this one offence. That is my case, which I hope will receive the consideration of the Government.

Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)

I should like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) has said, particularly as I think that one of the most painful duties which those who were officers in the last war had was to know how to treat people who had been brought back time after time and punished once and then again for their refusal to obey orders on the grounds of conscientious objection. It is incredibly difficult for any tribunal to know whether a man is genuinely conscientious about his objection or not.

If, in this case, rather than do 15 days' military training, a man would prefer to go to prison for a month and pay a fine of £25, it must be pretty clear that his objection is a solidly conscientious one; otherwise it would be more convenient to him to do 15 days' military training rather than a month's imprisonment. So far as the Army is concerned a special provision might have been made on the lines which my hon. Friend is suggesting so that no one shall be deemed to be punishable twice if he refuses to comply with the 15-day call-up notice at least, because he can suffer a worse penalty than if he served for the 15 days.

Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)

This is a difficult problem, but I am not certain that this Amendment would deal with it correctly. I am sure that as the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) spoke, we all remembered difficult cases of the kind to which he referred. I remember that in the Army at least the usual method was to give such men an order to put on a uniform, which they refused to obey. They were punished for that and were again given an order, and they refused again and again. It is a very difficult problem with which to deal. It was decided that if a man was sentenced to more than six months' imprisonment in a case such as that, he was entitled to go before the tribunal again. It was a peculiar way of dealing with the problem, and I do not think it was the right way.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Perhaps the hon. Member would permit me to say that I think it was three months, not six months.

Mr. Gage

Yes. I remember quite well—it seemed wrong to me—the attention of officers on courts-martial being called to this position, and they automatically imposed three months' imprisonment, not because they thought the man deserved it, but to enable him to go before a tribunal. It was a peculiarly English and extraordinary way of dealing with the matter.

I do not think that we shall be dealing with the problem by simply saying that such a man is not to be prosecuted again. That would make a difference between people who might commit one offence twice for quite different reasons. My view is that where a person who commits this kind of offence makes it clear that he has committed it for conscientious reasons he ought to be entitled to go before a tribunal again. A provision of that kind would be a better way of dealing with the matter.

One point to be remembered is that this Bill deals only with people who are called back for training, and consequently the percentage of men who have conscientious objections should be very small. I can remember only one such case. The man concerned was a musician, a bandsman in the Brigade of Guards, who had been a soldier for some 18 years. As the manpower shortage was becoming acute he found, unfortunately for himself, that he had to draw a rifle from the magazine in Hyde Park and go on sentry duty. He said that he would not do it. To his astounded superior officer he revealed for the first time that he had conscientious scruples about doing so although perhaps he had no conscientious scruples about playing a bugle in the band. That was not a very easy case with which to deal, but the Brigade of Guards had their own method of dealing with the matter, which was eventually resolved satisfactorily to all concerned.

I do not think that those cases are very likely to occur. In a Bill such as this, I think that the provision which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) wishes to insert is really unnecessary, though I would entirely agree with him that if this were a general Bill calling up men for National Service there should be included, if not this provision, at least some similar provision to ensure that men who did commit military offences on conscientious grounds would be enabled to go back to the tribunal.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Gage) really has not been examining the Clause, although I am sure that what he said was sincere. As I understand it, I think it is clear that the decision is taken by a local bench. The man is brought up before his local bench and charged under this Clause in that he did not comply with the direction, and so on. It may be that this has nothing to do with conscientious objection at all. It may be that he has acted from a sense of grievance or defiance. It may be that the man is annoyed with having had his notice, and so on. The only protection is that the notice has to be served by registered post, and we have to rely on the accuracy of the Post Office to ensure that a man does get his notice.

Obviously the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend is designed, because of this special reference, to apply to people who sincerely and conscientiously feel that on religious, ethical or moral grounds they should not be called upon to comply with that notice. The scope of the Bill is limited, of course, to a period of five months. The conscientious objector is to have 21 days' notice before calling him up and we are to have the same delay before his appeal to the tribunal is disposed of. We are, of course, assuming the case of a man who fails to establish to the tribunal in the limited time available that his conscience is not the sort which the tribunal think—and heaven knows how they assess it—disqualifies him from the obligation of military service. Then he gets his notice and fails to present himself. Then a summons is issued normally about 14 days before the hearing. He is brought before the local bench and is liable to a fine of £25 or imprisonment for a month for that offence.

The only limiting point of this particular Amendment—although I would say at once it is a matter of general principle, and as a matter of general principle ought to be applied to this sort of thing—is that we are saying: Is there really any sense, when this man comes out of prison, in sending him another notice dealing with him in the same way and perhaps sending him to the same place? Is there any sense in bringing him before the petty sessions again and saying, "You are to pay another £25 or do another month"? Does that help our own moral case or that of the authority? Does it help the courts? I can say as one who has practised in them, that courts loathed these cases. The hon. Member for Belfast, South talked about a three months' sentence, but it is the fact that many decent courts imposed a sentence of three months to end the man's misery.

Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)

Will the hon. Member deal with the point that while the majority of the few cases that will arise, will be perfectly genuine, this Amendment will give the right to a man to buy himself out at a cost of £25?

Mr. Hale

It gives him the right to buy himself out of a 15-day holiday. It does not exempt him at all from his final call-up if war comes. Then the matter arises again. It means that he is not one of the people who has to go to a 15-day camp which will be over before he is out of prison anyway. After all, we are dealing with British people in this.

Let us cast our minds back to the war when there was a very small percentage of conscientious objectors. As I think most people would agree, there were very few "scrim-shankers" among them. Most of those whom I met in my career were associated with those people known as Jehovah's Witnesses. I do not think that any one of us would regard such people as insincere, whether we agree with their views or not. There was not any sort of mass absenteeism or mass desire to avoid service.

What the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) is suggesting is that it is possible for a large number to pretend to be conscientious objectors. I do not want to misrepresent him but I suggest it is seriously open to doubt that a large number of men may say, "Rather than do a fortnight's camp in the country, we will take a chance of being prosecuted before the local 'beaks' and doing a month's imprisonment; and even then we would be prepared to go through it again to avoid a 15-day camp in the country." I hope that my hon. Friend will say that this very small Amendment which does affect a deep and heartfelt principle can be accepted.

Mr. Bell (Bucks, South)

I have the greatest sympathy with the underlying purpose of this Amendment, but it seems to me to be open to one serious objection. It is a general Amendment and does not apply in many cases where the punishment is received on grounds of conscience. I think that both the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale), have overlooked one rather important factor, that the penalty of one month's imprisonment and the fine of £25 are maximum penalties which the courts must not exceed.

One has to consider the case of a man brought before the magistrates who is not a conscientious objector at all, but has disobeyed because he has not found it convenient to attend at the proper time for some reason which the magistrates find inadequate. He may say, "I could not come at the time when I was told to because I had somewhere else to go." If the magistrates decided the reason was unreasonable they would probably impose a fine of 40s. Then, under this Amendment, for 40s. the man would have bought himself out of further liability for the 15 days' training. That is the difficulty I see in this Amendment which simply says that no one shall be prosecuted twice under this subsection.

Mr. Hale

The bench would know he was buying himself out.

Mr. Bell

With respect they would not. He would come before them and try to show that the excuse I have described was a reasonable excuse why he did not turn up at the time he was directed to.

If the bench accepted his excuse as reasonable, he would, of course, not be convicted or punished at all. If they decided hi, excuse was not a reasonable one, they would probably fine him some small sum like 40s. Then he would go away, not perhaps realising at the time, but afterwards he would suddenly realise, "This is not a bad position. I need not go now. They never can call me up again." I should have thought that the number of cases where a man did not turn up, and endeavoured to give a rather inadequate excuse would exceed in number those where he was a conscientious objector. Therefore, though I am not objecting to the principle of the Amendment I do quarrel with it in that respect.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does not the hon. Member think that the answer may be that if this Amendment were accepted, it would discourage the authority from prosecuting a trifling offence under this Clause in the police court?

Mr. Bell

The point made by the hon. Member is a little disingenuous. The authority is placed in this position. The man is sent a notice. He does not turn up and gives a perfectly inadequate explanation. He may say, "Well, my brother was ill," or something like that. He thinks, wrongly, that that is a good reason for not turning up. The authority obviously cannot accept that and they issue a summons against him. The magistrates think he is mistaken about the kind of reason he has given for not turning up and they fine him 40s. For that 40s. he is exempt from all further liability under this Act. That is the position which will apply if we accept this Amendment. I do not deny that it may be possible to draft an Amendment to cover that contingency but I am pointing out that the present Amendment presents that difficulty.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

At first sight, the objections mentioned by the hon. Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell) appear to be formidable; but I wonder whether the object which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) has in mind cannot be safeguarded when we consider later Amendments. I should be out of order if I sought to discuss that now. The object of this Amendment is primarily to safeguard the position of conscientious objectors. There are later Amendments which have the same purpose. If a conscientious objector takes advantage of the provisions which we hope will be incorporated in the Bill, then the position contemplated by the hon. Member for Bucks, South may not arise.

Reference has been made to the person who, without any conscientious ground, is merely trying to dodge his call-up. Even if this Amendment were accepted, the position of such a person could be controlled by serving another notice on him. There is nothing to prevent another notice being served on him and a prosecution being started in respect of that notice.

Mr. Bell

No. I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The Amendment refers to no person being prosecuted twice under this Clause; not twice in respect of a notice served under this Clause.

Mr. Roberts

I should have said that the words meant a prosecution under the Clause in respect of a particular notice.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Before the Minister replies to the debate, I should like to say that I am not wedded to the words of this Amendment. I think that a large number of hon. Members want the purpose which I have in mind to be put into effect. I am glad that it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air who is to reply. I appreciate his sincerity and his desire to meet the position. I remember particularly the contribution which his father made on this matter. I hope that, even if the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot accept this form of words, he will be prepared to consider the matter and to deal with it in such a way that the danger of "cat and mouse" treatment, to which the whole Committee is opposed, will be dealt with.

Mr. A. Henderson

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too disappointed. Perhaps he has already anticipated my reply. I do not think that any case has been established for exempting from the consequences of his action a person who refuses to obey a call-up notice which has been properly issued under the provisions of this Bill. Excluding for the moment the conscientious objector, it appears to me to be a most undesirable precedent to establish that when a man has been found guilty of an offence and has been punished, he is not to incur the sanction of the law if he repeats the offence.

Mr. Leslie Hale

He cannot repeat the offence unless he is called up again.

Mr. Henderson

It may be a matter of opinion whether or not that is desirable, but the fundamental object of this Bill is to ensure that certain categories of reservists shall incur the trouble and accept the duties of 15 or more days training, according to their category. The object of this Clause is to discourage men from refusing to accept that statutory obligation. If a man is given proper notice to which he refuses to respond, and if he is tried, convicted and punished, there is no reason why his next door neighbour who has accepted a notice should carry on in the knowledge that, by reason of his refusal, the other man who has been punished will be excluded for the remainder of the operation of the Act. We could not surrender the right to issue a second notice to any man who has refused and been punished.

6.15 p.m.

I now come to the question of the conscientious objector. I should have thought that there was a good deal in what was said by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts). If the machinery which has been established and which will operate to deal with cases of objectors is functioning properly, and I have no reason to believe that it is not—

Mr. Hale

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is speaking for the party of Keir Hardie and George Lansbury. He is surrounded by people who have had experience of these tribunals and who have suffered under them. Unless he is prepared to tell the Committee that the tribunals are to be differently constituted, are to have some different criteria, and so on, I must say that I am shocked to hear him say that there is no reason to think that the great mass of people, like Jehovah's Witnesses who spent their days in prison, did it because the tribunals had accurately assessed their consciences.

Mr. Henderson

I have to put the case for the Government, and I intend to do that without in any way accepting the view that my hon. Friend is a more devoted adherent of the cause for which Mr. Keir Hardie stood than I am. I am doing this on behalf of the party and the Government to which the hon. Member belongs. Therefore, I hope that we shall try to keep this question on a practical basis, because I have a practical problem to deal with. It may be that I am entirely wrong, but I had something to do with these tribunals during the last war, and I should have thought that, on the whole, they acted with reasonable impartiality and understanding.

My point is that I do not think that we can exclude the conscientious objector, provided that the offence is a second offence as distinct from a first offence. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will agree with me that in law it is difficult to provide that a man shall be excluded from responsibility for his acts merely on emotional grounds. One has to have the law. If the law is wrong, then of course it must be altered. If it is provided in this Bill that a man who fails to respond to his notice is to be punished, unless he can establish that his refusal to do so was based on conscientious grounds, we can do no more than provide machinery in the form of these tribunals to decide whether or not that person is a conscientious objector.

Though I cannot accept the Amendment, I should be prepared to re-examine the problem between now and Report stage. This is a practical problem. This Bill is to operate for 12 months, unless Parliament decides to the contrary. In a bona fide case, such as one where a man claims to be motivated by conscientious scruples, I cannot believe that, if the man has been tried and convicted, any Service Department would say in the next few months that they proposed to call him up again and put him into prison a second time. I make no promise, but if it is possible to evolve a formula which would cover the case which my hon. Friend has in mind, I would gladly undertake to consider it before the Report stage.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, may I say this? The tribunals which it is proposed should serve under this Bill, administratively, are the same tribunals as those which served during the Second World War. I am not criticising them, because they have an almost impossible task. If they get a stuttering man who cannot express himself, the task which we then place upon the tribunal—of judging his conscience—is almost impossible of execution. Inevitably, mistakes occur. Even during the Second World War, I represented men at a fifth tribunal, men who, after that fifth tribunal and a fifth sentence, were then recognised to be genuine.

It was because of that failure that the Government introduced the proposal to which reference has been made from the back benches opposite. It is that, the sentence of three months having been given, the man should be sent back to the tribunal. I would be quite happy to accept the proposal made from the opposite benches that, when an order is refused on a claim that the man's actions had been taken on conscientious grounds, instead of the responsibility being placed upon the court-martial, the man should be sent back to the tribunal for reconsideration of his case. If my right hon. and learned Friend gives me an undertaking that he will look at this proposal before the Report stage, I shall be very happy indeed.

Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)

I was not quite certain that I clearly understood something that the Secretary of State said a few moments ago. Was he telling us that if somebody had disobeyed the first notice and had been prosecuted and found guilty, in all probability the Minister, after consideration, would not call up the man or issue another notice to him at all? If that is the case, it seems to me to be a very cheap way of getting out of service under this Bill, because we must remember that service under this Bill is not in every case service for 15 days, but may be service for three months or even 18 months. This seems to be a very cheap way of getting out of 18 months' service by disobeying the notice, being prosecuted, paying a fine of £25 and getting off. I cannot believe that this is in the spirit of the Bill as it was originally drafted, and I should like to have further clarification of the point.

Mr. A. Henderson

I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I said, because I was speaking of the normal case. Obviously, we should issue a second notice; we would not allow a man to escape the law simply because he was prepared to pay a fine or go to prison. That is one qualification. Having regard to the case made by my hon. Friend, I said that, if the records of the case showed that there was an element of conscience in the action taken by the man—a refusal by the person concerned—because of the fact that the period was only for 12 months, or perhaps less, because the training period will be over by October, it might well be possible, in those circumstances, that we would not call up that particular individual again.

Mr. Low

I can see difficulties about that, because surely the question of conscience would, first of all, have been before the appropriate tribunal, and if it had already been brought before the appropriate tribunal, why should the Service Department concerned then turn itself into an appeal tribunal on this matter? I do not understand, and I was trying to get the right hon. and learned Gentleman to explain the point more clearly. I have not got it more clearly, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to me to be getting into worse difficulties.

Mr. Henderson

I should be guided by the tribunal, because if a conscientious objector had taken his case to the tribunal, assuming that there was a doubt and that a second notice had been issued, the man would then appeal on the second notice.

Hon. Members


Mr. Low

He can go back to the tribunal on the second notice?

Mr. Henderson indicated assent.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I also would make an appeal to the Secretary of State to give more serious consideration to the problem before the Committee. I could understand his attitude in the case of a person who denied that he had received the notice, even though it was sent by a registered letter. Let us remember this. In actual practice amongst ordinary working people, in connection with registered letters sent through the post, there has been a general tendency for sons or daughters to sign receipts for letters sent to other members of the family, and these are invariably accepted. At my own home, any member of the family may sign the receipt for a document sent by registered post, and that receipt has always been accepted by the Post Office. I can see the force of asking that a second notice shall be served on an individual who denies that he has received the first one or who has failed to obey it, if he is a person who has no real objection to service in the Forces.

In regard to the conscientious objector, there are one or two things that the Secretary of State said which, quite honestly, are contrary to the facts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think that the ordinary tribunals have operated quite fairly to the applicant. Well, that is not my experience. I went before a considerable number of tribunals with applicants during the last war, and I would do so again if people who were genuine conscientious objectors needed me in going before these tribunals.

I have seen people insulted in the most abominable fashion. As a matter of fact, the son of the late Mr. John Wheatley, former M.P. for Shettleston, had to go before Sheriff Hunter at a tribunal in Glasgow, and the right hon. Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary delayed carrying out the decision and sent it to the appeal tribunal. There was actually a copy of a case which had been taken down in shorthand, and it was presented to the Minister of Labour. It was abominable to see this individual treated in such a shocking manner.

We must remember that an individual may appeal on religious grounds, but, to begin with, he sets himself against the bench, because the bench is generally composed of people who profess to be Christians. I am not saying that they are not from their own angle, but they see in the individual before them a man claiming that a certain Act of Parliament outrages his religious convictions, and they naturally become antagonistic, and from their first approach they begin to try to wear him down. Tribunals have been very often instruments for attacking a man's conscientious objections by tripping him with questions that have nothing to do with his conscientious objection.

Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman from this angle. He must remember that it is not always the most genuine conscientious objector who gets exempted. Very often it is the mild and meek person, while the person who like the Minister of Defence and myself, is very aggressive, is because of that attitude, turned down. In those circumstances, we often find that a mea- sure of spleen is put upon such persons, and they are refused the concession to which they are entitled. Tribunals are not all like that, because there was an appeal tribunal in Edinburgh which operated very fairly—as fairly as any I have known—but in the Glasgow area the manner in which these individuals were beaten down was shocking.

To refuse exemption to a man, whose self-confessed conscientious objection is, in many cases, testified to by independent witnesses; to bring him before a court when he refuses to respond to a call-up notice and sentence him to a term of imprisonment, and then, when he comes out of prison, to grill him again, is a shocking thing and something with which, in my estimation, no Labour Government should be associated.

6.30 p.m.

I appeal to the Minister to grant this concession, because we are not dealing here with a large section of the community who are trying to dodge military service. Let us remember that one of the things that prevent the "fly men" of society, the "spivs," from claiming exemption on conscientious grounds is the fact that society has, I think wrongly in some respects, developed an antagonism towards the conscientious objector. It is a label which has been stamped upon them, and which they do not want.

Therefore, I say to the Minister that he should be satisfied with the contents of this Amendment. If it is not satisfactory in its present form, he should redraft it but I think it would be a very bad thing if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were to go on with the Bill itself and be prepared to allow conditions in which a man could be punished three, four or five times for the same offence. I have been to detention camps in Liverpool to interview men who were I knew lifelong bona fide conscientious objectors in every sense, but who, nevertheless, were imprisoned time and again for not complying with a direction to join the Armed Forces. I appeal to the Minister not to perpetuate the failings of the past in this respect and to try to be big and generous by acceptting this Amendment.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

I wish to say a word or two in support of what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). I remember during the last war attending a tribunal considering cases of conscientious objection at Fulham. Anybody who knows the procedure at such tribunals knows that a statement is usually made by the applicant setting out his case, which can be backed up by three independent testimonials. There were four people sitting on the tribunal that day, and, right from the start, they set out to harass the applicant, so much so, indeed, that in the great majority of the cases they never got beyond the applicant's original statement and therefore never considered the evidence of the independent parties testifying on his behalf. Very often, such testimonials were from ministers of religion, mayors of boroughs, and similar people. They started cross-examining the applicant from the very first sentence of his statement, and it is quite easy—

The Chairman

Order. We must not get into a discussion on this Amendment as to the procedure on tribunals, or the action they take. The question is whether a person should be prosecuted more than once. I have allowed a certain amount of reference to tribunals, but I do not think we can go into matters of detail.

Mr. Pannell

With great respect, Major Milner, I would point out that the Minister stated that we had no grounds for thinking that the tribunals did not operate fairly, and that, I suggest, is the whole kernel of this matter. If from our own personal experience we can sustain the fact that tribunals do not operate fairly—and, after all, the Minister was never himself an applicant before a tribunal—I think it is only fair that we should consider the Amendment of my hon. Friend in that light.

What I am trying to point out, as has already been pointed out by other hon. Members, is that it is a very difficult thing for any tribunal really to assess what is a man's conscience. If we add to that difficulty the tribunal's prejudice, hostility and desire to embarrass the applicant rather than to hear him, then, I think, it is reasonable for us to discuss this matter here. If we are to rely on these tribunals in the future, then I suggest that some far more explicit instructions concerning their procedure should be given to their members in order to ensure that an applicant is properly heard.

At one tribunal, no fewer than four applications were dismissed in under four minutes each. I suggest that it takes four or five minutes for one to get used to the atmosphere of any judicial proceedings and to find one's legs when appearing before a tribunal. If the Minister's case is to prevail, then I suggest that a code of law or of procedure will have to be laid down for tribunals so as to ensure that a person is properly heard. I state quite emphatically that was not so at the Fulham tribunal in the last war.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

The discussion of this simple Amendment seems to have turned into a general inquest on the operation of tribunals during the last war. But, surely, the Amendment does not really deal with that problem at all. We should surely try to get this matter a little more into perspective. The people who are being recalled are people who have already served, and have had the opportunity of establishing their conscientious scruples. In spite of their past service, they are, as I understand it, now being given another opportunity of satisfying an independent tribunal. From my experience of these tribunals—although, of course, all tribunals vary—I think that in the last war they all did their best in what is, after all, a very difficult investigation.

As I say, the people who are being recalled are being given the opportunity yet again of going before a tribunal. I cannot believe, having regard to the past record of all these individuals, that we shall find there are many bona fide conscientious objectors, who have suddenly developed a conscientious objection, going before the tribunals. But what is, of course, most important is that the tribunals should do their work well. We have to assume, for the purposes of the argument on this Amendment, the case where a man has suddenly developed a conscientious objection after previous service, and who has gone before a tribunal and has had his case rejected. We cannot get away from the issue by saying that sometimes a tribunal makes mistakes. Sometimes it may, but sometimes, again, it does not.

This Amendment not only covers the case of the conscientious objector, but every case. For instance, it covers the case of the man who is dishonestly trying to avoid the obligation which this House is seeking to put upon him. Therefore, the Amendment is going far too wide, and, indeed, is introducing a novel principle by suggesting that if, when a statute creates a new offence, a man is once convicted of that offence, he can never be convicted of it again. I must say I feel that, so long as the tribunals operate as fairly as they have in the past, and as I am sure they will in the future, and in view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that a man who has been sentenced under this Clause will, if he gets a fresh calling-up notice, be entitled once again to go before the tribunal, that is a very adequate additional safeguard.

I want to put one point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He referred to a man's second "call-up" notice. Would it not be his "warning" notice, because I think the right of going before a tribunal is not given on the call-up notice, but on the warning notice?

Mr. Henderson

I meant warning notice.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Provided that the individual and for this purpose I am confining my observations to the conscientious objector—has that opportunity, then I think there is adequate protection for the very few conscientious objectors who are likely to be in the category of those recalled, and in view of the all-embracing terms of this Amendment, I do not think the Committee could possibly support it in its present form.

Mr. S. Silverman

Whatever one thinks about this Amendment I think everybody appreciates to the full the difficulty to which the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), referred in the last part of his speech, of which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Air also spoke, and which is in the minds of those who have opposed this Amendment. That is the danger of offering someone an easy alternative for avoiding, without conscientious reasons, the obligations laid upon him under this Bill.

In reply to that I earnestly and sincerely invite the attention of the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South, to this point. In stressing that difficulty overmuch he is ignoring his own warning to us not to lose our sense of proportion in this matter. I quite agree that there are a few cases under this Bill where the service called for is for a long period, 18 months or so, and I can quite see the substance of objection to an Amendment of this kind in those cases. I dare say that if suitable suggestions were made to him my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) would he quite prepared to alter the Amendment in such a way as to cover that point if it was thought worth while.

I think, however, that we all realise that the number of men who are to be called up for a long period is very small indeed, and what we are really concerned with in perhaps 90 per cent. or more of the cases is a period of training of 15 days in the summer months. That is the only obligation which this Bill lays upon a great majority of the people affected by it, and the temptation to avoid that 15-day period of re-training must be a very small temptation indeed. If anyone, on other than conscientious grounds, were to feel tempted, nevertheless, to avail himself of this Amendment if it becomes law, what would he have to do in order to avoid 15 days' training? He might very well have to spend a month in gaol and pay a fine of £25 as well.

Does anyone really suggest, and does my right hon. and learned Friend really think, that serving a month in gaol and paying a £25 penalty in addition will be a very attractive inducement to people to avoid the 15 days' service that they are called upon to do under this Bill? It is a fantastic suggestion, and I submit that if anyone had the hardihood to compound for 15 days' service 30 days in gaol and a £25 fine, then he would be entitled to his bargain and the Amendment would do no harm. I do not, for that reason, accept the distinction between the conscientious objector in this connection and the evader or the man who refuses to serve for any other reason. It seems to me that the maximum penalty under the Clause is so very much more onerous than the obligation under the Clause that it is really quite unreasonable to suppose that even if one only had it once the alternative is an attractive alternative.

I suggest that my right hon. Friend has failed to appreciate the point that is being made about the conscientious side of this matter. It is quite true that the law cannot be administered on emotional grounds. Nobody ever said it could, but I think he will agree with me that one of the most important things in all legal matters, certainly under the criminal law and especially in matters of this kind, is that the law should not be made ridiculous or brought into contempt. Nothing in the world brings a law more into contempt with the public than the spectacle of the chasing over and over again of a man who morally, whatever may be the case legally, has established his claim not to be pursued further.

It is not a question of criticising the tribunals. I had no experience of the tribunals in the last war. I had a great deal of experience of tribunals in the First World War. I think there were sometimes cases such as those described by my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), but in most of the cases I think the tribunals honestly tried to do a good and fair job and in the vast majority of cases they succeeded surprisingly well. But the best of these tribunals would be the readiest to admit that they were not infallible. No tribunal even on an ordinary case is infallible. In this particular case the kind of evidence, the criterion to be applied, the test and yardstick to enable the tribunal to know what is going on inside a man's moral conscience are so very difficult indeed that the best tribunal in the world may sometimes be mistaken.

6.45 p.m.

As the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South, pointed out, in this particular case conscientious objection would be even harder to establish than it was before, because one would be dealing with men who have accepted service in the past and therefore have that very difficult preliminary hurdle to overcome. If mistakes are made, then in this case they are a little easier to make rather than less easy to make than they were before. It is not enough to say, "Oh, he can apply a second time." There is no guarantee that he would be better judged the second time than the first. When one has regard to the comparison between the obligation imposed and the penalty for refusing that obligation, it seems to me that the only safe course for the Government to take is to accept the Amend- ment of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough and, for my part, I hope he will stick to it.

Mr. Shinwell

It has been suggested more than once in the course of this discussion that we might put the matter in its proper perspective. I venture to essay that task. What is the actual position? We are proposing to call up a specific category of men for 15 days. I want to make it quite clear that as regards the other categories, the Regular reservists called up it may be for 12 months or 18 months, it is extremely unlikely that any of those will appeal on conscientious grounds for the simple reason that all along they have accepted a, retaining fee from the Government. Therefore, let us exclude that category.

There is another category to which I must refer. It is the category of those men, very small in number, principally members of the Royal Air Force, who are volunteers. Clearly if men are volunteers it is extremely unlikely that they will have conscientious scruples. So they are excluded. What have we left? We are left with a body of Class Z or Class G reservists all of whom, as the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), rightly pointed out, have served in His Majesty's Forces. It may well be that among that comparatively large number—a matter of 200,000 or so—there may be some who, having served in the past, have developed conscientious objections to further service.

Mr. Yates

Quite a number.

Mr. Shinwell

My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) interjects to say, "Quite a number." We do not know. We have no evidence of the numbers who have changed their views. If my hon. Friend has a substantial body of evidence which indicates that very large numbers of men who served in the last war have developed genuine conscientious objections—I emphasise "genuine conscientious objections"—that is another matter. But let us not have a dispute about this matter. It is very largely, in the absence of evidence, a matter of opinion. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood, no doubt, has a number of cases of that kind.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but a practical point seems to arise. It is that the purpose of the Class Z Reserve is to draw into the Forces key men and men who are going to provide the framework of the future organisation, if it should be necessary. Surely, it is very undesirable to have people who have expressed conscientious objections and who are prepared to serve a term of imprisonment rather than serve in the Forces?

Mr. Shinwell

We cannot possibly distinguish between men called up, some of whom may be key technicians, and other men who are just common labourers or, it may be, business men or professional men. We have to decide whether these men, whoever they are, in whatever industrial or professional capacity, have conscientious scruples. How is that to be determined?

Let me give an example. Suppose a man has served during the last war or has been a member of His Majesty's Forces from 1945 to 1947. He comes within the ambit of Clause 1. He receives a warning notice and decides to appeal. He appeals to the tribunal. The tribunal obviously ask him, so I imagine, why he has changed his opinion, and he is able to develop his case and prove conclusively to the tribunal that he is now possessed of genuinely conscientious objections against service. If that is so, no doubt the tribunal release him from his obligations. But it may well be that some members of the tribunal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has alleged, are not fully conscious of the existence of conscientious objections on the part of the individual concerned, and treat him with some severity. Let it not be forgotten that, having been turned down by the tribunal, he has recourse to an appellate tribunal. Nothing has been said about that. That is to say, he has got two tries.

Mr. Brockway

He has got two bites.

Mr. Shinwell

As my hon. Friend says, he has got two bites, one of which may succeed. I ask hon. Members to possess themselves of this fact. Be it noted that all this is to happen in the course of the training period this year. Some of my hon. Friends have forgotten that this is a temporary Measure which can be revived next year if the House so desires. It can be revived with all its implications. But we are not dealing with what is to happen next year. We are dealing with what will happen this year.

If a man is called up and on conscientious grounds objects to serving he goes to the tribunal, where his case is heard. If his case is rejected, he appeals to the appellate tribunal. I his case is again rejected, he goes, by the action of the military authorities, before a civil court where he is prosecuted and he then receives a fine or is sent to prison. All that has got to happen during the training period. Is it seriously alleged by my hon. Friends that, the case having been dealt with over the course of a few months—it will take a few months before it can be disposed of—there is any question of the man being prosecuted again during that period? [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) must restrain himself—

Mr. Brockway


Mr. Shinwell

—and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) should also restrain himself. Interruptions disturb the thread of my argument, and, as my hon. Friends know, I am easily disturbed. I must present the case in a consecutive form.

Mr. Brockway

Perhaps I may take advantage of my right hon. Friend, and I hope that during the interval he will be able to recover his train of thought. I am very sorry to interrupt him, but the point I want to put is this. He was saying: Is it seriously argued that a man may be sentenced twice, or called up twice, or dealt with twice, or punished twice? My answer is "yes." When a man gets to the court of summary jurisdiction, the general practice is to hand him over to an escort to be taken to the Army, without sentencing him to imprisonment. The first thing that is required of him is a medical examination. If he refuses a medical examination, he can be sentenced to punishment. As soon as he finishes that punishment the escort is at the prison door to take him back into the Army. Then if he disobeys orders he is punished again. Therefore, it is quite obvious that within a very short period the man can be punished twice. I hope my right hon. Friend has restored his train of thought.

Mr. Shinwell

My hon. Friend has revived it, and I am now refreshed with further arguments. My hon. Friend suggests that the man is taken to the Army by a military escort, is asked to have a medical examination, and that if he objects he is sentenced to imprisonment, after which he is taken to the Army. In fact, the only Army to which he can be sent is the Army which is arranged during the 15 days period. I ask my hon. Friend to note that it is not as if a conscientious objector were subjected to a medical examination, dealt with by the military authority and then put into the Regular Army. All that we can do is to see that he attends the annual training for 15 days. When he is taken by his military escort to the training camp, wherever it may be—it may be in the North of Scotland or in the Highlands or in some other salubrious part of the country—we can only prosecute if he refuses to serve.

Mr. Brockway

A second time.

Mr. Shinwell

No. My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. He cannot have two prosecutions. There is only one prosecution. The man can only be prosecuted after he has refused either to attend the training or to undergo a medical examination. It seems to me that what my hon. Friend is asking is totally unrealistic and totally academic. If I may venture to offer a word on behalf of hon. Members opposite, I think I can say that in all quarters of the House there is a genuine sympathy for those who have genuine conscientious scruples. There is no desire to inflict hardship on people of that kind.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. J. Hudson

The difficulty is, of course, that there are no conscientious objectors in the view of those who make war or prepare for war.

Mr. Shinwell

I must enter into conflict here with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who is an old friend of mine and whose views I have always respected.

Mr. Granville


Mr. Shinwell

Perhaps I may deal with my hon. Friend first, then I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). I could present my hon. Friends with the figures. In fact, I have some here. [Interruption.] The expedition with which these figures were provided shows the ingenuity and general expedition of the Government. During 1949 the tribunals considered 516 cases. Presumably these were National Service men. They registered 18 unconditionally, 226 conditionally and 122 for non-combatant service, and they rejected 150. That is a pretty good percentage.

Mr. McGovern

Experience of these cases shows that very often the tribunal decides to give a man non-combatant duties which the real conscientious objector refuses to accept.

Mr. Shinwell

As far as this part of my case is concerned, I rest it on the fact that a large number of conscientious objectors have been relieved from active service as a result of the operations of the tribunals. It may be that there have been a number of hard cases and no doubt some injustice has occurred. I will not deny that. But I beg my hon. Friends to realise that we are dealing with a limited period, with a temporary call-up, which obviously can apply to only a limited number, in the very nature of the case, and that it is therefore most unlikely that there will be hardship.

Mr. S. Silverman

Then why not accept the Amendment?

Mr. Shinwell

My hon. Friend says in his lawyer-like fashion and in the dictatorial attitude which has become characteristic of him, "Why not accept the Amendment?" The reason we decline to accept the Amendment is that we quite genuinely believe it to be unnecessary.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

May I ask the Minister of Defence whether he is now repudiating the assurance given by the Secretary of State for Air that he will reconsider this matter?

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. Member is quite entitled to ask that question. What my right hon. and learned Friend had in mind was whether it was possible to provide a form of words which would enable us to deal more reasonably or more humanely with cases of this kind. I am prepared to give the assurance that we shall look at that, but I think it is very largely a matter for human administration. As much can be done in that way as by inserting provisions in the Bill. I should like to give this assurance on behalf of the three Services—that in this temporary Bill, having regard to all the circumstances and the nature of men who will be called up, they will exercise the utmost care and discretion and humanity in dealing with this matter.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

I have listened to the debate and, if I may say so, I think it is misconceived. This Clause does not seem to me to deal with conscientious objectors at all. It makes no provision for dealing with them. I fully agree that a case may be made, as was made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), with regard to the treatment of conscientious objectors, but I must point out that there can be no second prosecution under this Clause. The service is for 15 days and the notices will have to be specific. The length of the possible prison sentence is a month, which is a longer period than that covered by the notice, so that the man could be prosecuted only once.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

They may serve another notice.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

That is another matter, but the man cannot be prosecuted twice for the same offence. The instances which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough gave were those which arose from the same circumstances. What makes the difference is this—that the obligation to serve under the National Service Act was for the duration of the emergency, whereas this is an obligation to serve for 15 days and no more. The resulting punishment is, therefore, different. This does not alter the question of how we should deal with conscientious objectors and that may be raised, if necessary, when the proper Clause is reached. This is not the proper Clause.

Mr. Foot

It seems to me that the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) has missed the point. I should like, however, to return to the speech of the Minister of Defence. In his attempt to put this matter in perspective, the Minister of Defence has proved far too much. First of all, he knocked out his most powerful argument against the Amendment. There can be a powerful argument on grounds concerning those being called up under the Measure for 18 months or three months. It may be argued—as it was argued by hon. Members opposite—that in that case there is a reasonable risk of a man preferring to go to prison for a month and paying a fine of £25 in order to escape that amount of service.

But the Minister himself knocked out that argument completely by saying that, as these people were receiving pay from His Majesty's Government, then these cases would obviously not arise. He said that straight away we could rule out the whole of that category. He went on to argue that there would be very few people to go to the tribunal and reduced the number of cases which would arise under this Bill to little more than negligible proportions. He concluded his peroration by saying—his real, damning counter-blitz against the Amendment—that it was academic and unnecessary.

But if the Amendment is superfluous, it is also unobjectionable, so why do not the Government accept it? Some hon. Members on this side have given evidence in the debate of cases where people have been prosecuted, two, three, four or five times. As the Minister of Defence has proved that there is no danger in the Amendment, surely he might have shown a little more respect to those on this side of the House who have some knowledge of these matters and who have made this case from the beginning—and this is a ground of principle for the Amendment being accepted by a Labour Government: that it is a disgusting thing that a conscientious objector should be brought up three or four times.

As there is no danger in accepting the Amendment, and as it would involve none of the practical objections which have been raised from the other side of the House—on the evidence of the Minister of Defence himself—why cannot the right hon. Gentleman say, generously, that he agrees with the arguments so cogently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) at the beginning of the debate?

Mr. Grimond

Far be it from me to attempt to defend the Minister of Defence, but I must point out what the right hon. Gentleman said in his opening remarks. What the Minister said was that where the man was called up for 18 months he was unlikely to be a conscientious objector. He did not say that such a man was unlikely to apply to avoid service under the Act. The whole argument on that point rests on the case that a man who is liable to be called up for 18 months might attempt to avoid service under the Act by paying a fine of £25.

Mr. Foot

I was taking up what the Minister of Defence said on what I think was his main argument.

Mr. Grimond

Surely, the hon. Gentleman will agree that if we are to accept the Amendment it must be an Amendment which itself applies to conscientious objectors.

Hon. Members


Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot)—and I am rather embarrassed by that agreement—in saying that the Minister put forward the very worst possible reason for the rejection of this Amendment, namely, that it was unnecessary. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) put forward the most extraordinary suggestion that if a man gets his bargain he should be allowed to get away with it. I would suggest that on that principle, if a man were sent to prison for having stolen some article, he should be allowed to keep the article.

Mr. S. Silverman

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not really wish to deal with the matter in that way. I was trying to meet the argument that if we were to accept this Amendment we should be offering an attractive inducement to people to evade their obligation under the Bill, and I was pointing out that, since in the case of 90 per cent. of the people the obligation under the Bill was so much more attractive than the penalty, one could afford to disregard the chance that someone might choose the penalty.

Mr. Harvey

I do not see any reason at all why the original intention of the Bill should be set aside in any way at all. By this Bill we are placing an obligation on people to do a national duty, and if we accept it that the tribunals are going to perform their task justly—as we on this side do—there is no reason at all to accept the principle that the duty should not be performed in the long run. Therefore, for that reason, I could not support the Amendment.

Mr. Wyatt

We were appealed to by the Secretary of State for Air earlier to deal with this as a practical problem, but when my hon. Friend tried to treat the matter as a practical problem, he was given an idealistic answer. The situation is, surely, that these members of the Class Z Reserve are being recalled simply for the purpose of providing an Army which can be quickly put into the field—the Territorial part of it—or for providing key men to fill up Regular units.

Both the Secretary of State for Air and the Minister of Defence have clearly said that, of course, a man who refuses to serve for his 15 days on grounds of conscientious objection would not be called up again because there would not be time left for it. By the time he had gone through his punishment and been before the tribunal, and all the rest of it, there would be no time left in any case to fit him in with this scheme. Nobody can possibly imagine a situation, in any case, in which a unit that is likely to be in action should war begin would say, "For goodness' sake, let us have Private Smith, who is a conscientious objector, because he is so valuable in dealing with the enemy." Obviously, he would be the last person to be fitted for a cadre.

Again, hon. Members opposite and my two right hon. Friends seem to think it rather odd that anybody may have changed his mind and become a conscientious objector since leaving his military service. I have found in my own military experience that that is not at all uncommon. I know that it has happened that people, after many years in the Army, because they were thoughtful people, or, at any rate, people who thought differently from most of us, came to the conclusion in the end that they were doing something quite wrong and quite immoral, and ought no longer to do it. I can remember one particular case of an officer who had been in the Army some five or six years who came to that conclusion.

7.15 p.m.

The difficulty about such a case as that is that people are likely to be sceptical about the man because he expresses views he has not expressed before. Somebody who is called up and does his service and then develops scruples is less likely to receive sympathetic consideration by a tribunal precisely because he comes to express views afterwards which he has not expressed before. A tribunal is quite likely to say, "This is an unplausible story, because you cannot possibly have developed those scruples when you have not had them before." Yet it is possible to develop them. In the case I have particularly in mind, the person concerned was perfectly genuine, but he was court-martialled, and all the rest of it, although he had become a genuine conscientious objector.

As both my right hon. Friends are so convinced that we are now going to have a situation in which anybody who is called up for his 15 days can refuse to go to the Services on conscientious grounds, and in which nobody will be called upon a second time if, having refused service, he has done his punishment, why on earth cannot that be put into the Bill? It really does seem absolutely farcical to say, as my right hon. Friends say, that we cannot include it in the Bill because they are going to do it anyway. Surely it must be possible to provide a simple, one-line Amendment which would deal with the situation of those who would be liable to be called up for 15 days, and who would refuse to do their service on conscientious grounds. It is a highly practical problem, and we were asked to deal with it on a practical basis.

Mr. Yates

I am very disappointed at the statement made by the Minister of Defence on this matter, and I hope that he is going to think again about it. Whenever we have discussed the National Service Acts, this question has been a subject of discussion. It was in the last Parliament. I had a case of one of the "Bevin boys" in my constituency. This was not altogether a case of conscientious objection; but he declined to go down the mines, and was prepared to so into the Army. He was sent to prison three times. I had to raise the question in the House. In spite of what the Minister says about how they will administer this humanely and sympathetically, I must point out that that sort of thing is always said—always. Yet in that case the court decided that here was a man who should be in prison. He spent a Christmas in prison. It was only when I made the strongest possible protest in the House that the then Minister of Labour reviewed even that particular case.

While my right hon. Friend was speaking, I interjected that there were a good number of people who, since doing military service in the war, had become conscientious objectors. I would say to my right hon. Friend that there are a number of these people who have had experience in the Armed Forces and who have changed their minds. We have said before that a boy of 18 has not matured sufficiently to know whether or not he is taking a right course. When, later, he reaches maturity, he may form different opinions.

It is a long time ago now, but there was a group of ex-Service men who signed a peace letter a good many years ago, in which they said they had changed their minds. They said: Those who, like ourselves, served on the various battle fronts during the Great War realise more fully than civilians possibly can the bestiality, the agony, and the futility of war, and it should be our especial responsibility to save others from horrors like those through which we passed. That was a letter which was signed by our present Prime Minister as an ex-Service man. I tell my right hon. Friend and the Government today that I have had letters from people who have decided from experience that military service is wrong, and yet I have not the slightest doubt that they will have the greatest possible difficulty before the tribunals because of the fact that they have actually served. The Front Bench do not seem to be taking this matter as seriously as some of us are. To us this is a vital matter, affecting not only the consciences of people but the life of the community. We think that, whether or not the Government assure us that people will not be prosecuted two or three times, it is not fair to haunt people when they have made a definite stand, and I hope my hon. Friends will strongly support this Amendment, which I trust the Government will accept.

Mr. J. Hudson

I want to make one more appeal to the Minister who in his speech referred to the very old association between himself and myself on this question. He at any rate knows, even though hon. Members opposite do not know, that in these matters I have remained faithful to one line of conviction. I do not think my right hon. Friend understood my interjection during his speech. I was not accepted as a genuine conscientious objector; I was a fraud, just a shirker, merely a coward not prepared to put up a case based upon conviction. I could not get tribunals to understand that I was in earnest; I experienced the cat-and-mouse process time after time and never established that I had a genuine conscientious conviction.

I do not think my right hon. Friend understood this qualification of my interruption of his speech, that those who are bound on the prosecution of war or the preparation for war cannot, because their minds are honestly and genuinely absorbed with the defence of the country, understand the meaning of these inner voices which continue to prompt men and women to do other than what the majority of their fellows are doing.

Having gone through this experience, I have always admitted that as long as this conscientious objector difficulty confronts us there will recur and recur again the impossibility of many men according to conscientious objection what I think legislation would now like to accord to it. It is better, if Parliament can, to put an end to the injustice which necessarily arises out of the fundamental incapacity of honest men and women to allow to the conscientious objector what they ought to allow. That is what this Amendment tries to do. A man has one sentence and serves a month—longer in this case perhaps than if he is dishonest. We are asking, for the sake of both this Bill and other Bills which may grow out of it in the difficult time in which we live, that an end should be put to the injustice that in the natural order of things falls upon men.

Perhaps I may be permitted to make a personal reference. One of the things that amazes me in this Committee is that, although in the old days when I spoke about these things as a young man I was called a coward and a shirker, now everybody always says of me, "We know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking quite sincerely." The tribunal did not know that, and the point I put to the Minister and to the Committee is that in the nature of things the tribunal so often cannot understand us.

The time has now come to put a limit to the punishments that are imposed upon people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has so well said, those who have gone through war and are called up at a later period of their lives can very well honestly arrive at the same sort of convictions as those at which I have arrived, and I am asking for them the same as I claim for myself. I hope that the Ministry will waken up in time to the danger involved in this. We cannot possibly let them get away with this, and I beg the Government to alter their attitude towards this Amendment.

Mr. Keenan

I do not want to detain the Committee long, because I think we have spent rather more time on this Amendment than we ought to have done. I am rather concerned at the fact that, while we are dealing with the recall of men to the Services, we seem to be giving little or no time to those who are likely to be recalled to give their service. If there were the opportunity, I could say a lot about others who might be called up besides the categories with which we are concerned; there are those who have given no service at all.

From what the Minister has said, there seems to be no reason why he should not accept this Amendment, even if not in its present form. I am not a legal man who can find fault in the Amendments which come before us, but from what has been said it would appear that this does not apply merely to those who may be tried for being conscientious objectors. It applies to anybody. It has been said that it might be considered worth while by some, to spend money on dodging service by buying themselves out. While I see the difficulty of providing in the Clause that a person with a conscientious objection shall be tried only once, I think a good case has been made for having only one go at the individual in this connection. Much as I disagree with many of the observations made by those who have pressed this Amendment on the Government, I think that in all reasonableness the Government should accept an Amendment of this sort to meet some of the objections.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I join with my hon. Friends in asking the Government to look again at this Amendment and to accept it. I believe the feeling of the Committee is that nobody wants to protect the ungenuine conscientious objector who has no conviction but wishes merely to escape military service; but I believe there is also a genuine feeling in the Committee that there should be no persecution of genuinely minded conscientious objectors.

7.30 p.m.

The hon. Member said that there was a case for having only one go at an individual. I speak rather objectively because they had five goes at me. The result was that it did not reform me. Let me submit to the military Members who have spoken in this debate the question: "Do you want perpetually people like me going before your courts-martial, stating a case at very great length, and partially succeeding in converting the officers at the courts-martial?" That takes up the time of the military authorities.

I know that the officers at my second court-martial, if they had had their way, would have kicked me out as a nuisance. I had five courts-martial, and at the end they issued me with a discharge ticket, saying that I was liable to a fine of £100 or three months' imprisonment if I tried to enlist again. I suggest that they should take the reasonable, rational attitude and say, "We do not want people like that clogging up the military machine."

The argument has been made that this sort of thing is not likely to happen. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that there is a new type of conscientious objector coming along. In the First World War, there were roughly two kinds of conscientious objectors—the Quakers and other religious denominations, and people not considered to have any conscience, like me. Now we have a new development. There was the case, which I quoted in the House recently, of a Conservative candidate, Mr. Douglas-Home, who during the war changed his opinion and became a conscientious objector.

Brigadier Head

I think that we ought to get this right. Mr. Douglas-Home was not a conscientious objector. He had tactical and strategic views, and he considered that the bombardment of a certain town was militarily unnecessary, and therefore he refused to take part, but he was not a conscientious objector.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that he had a tactical and strategic objection. From the point of view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that no doubt carries weight. Imagine two hon. and gallant Members opposite sitting on a court-martial and having to discuss the objection of a young captain who came along with a tactical and strategic objection. That has proved the very point which I am making, that we are getting a different kind of conscientious objector who should not be subject to persecution. I suggest that the sentence of nine months on Douglas-Home was a gross injustice. That is recognised by the Conservatives, who have adopted him as candidate for Kirkcaldy.

I want to refer to the type of conscientious objector who is now emerging in Scotland. In the last war we had the case of a conscientious objector called Douglas Young, a very eminent scholar and man of letters. He was subjected to the same kind of cat-and-mouse treatment, and spent a considerable time in prison. I suggest that his opinions should receive just as much respect as the opinions of others. Looking back upon it, everyone feels slightly ashamed that because this man had a unique point of view and was prepared to suffer for it, he should have been treated like a common criminal.

In the last war I remember a man coming to see me and saying, "I am going to appeal before the local tribunal." I said "What is the nature of your objection?" He said "I served in Spain in the International Brigade during the Civil War, and that convinced me that war was not a thing in which I could take part in future." He asked, "What do you think my chances are?" I said, "You have no chance at all if you go before that tribunal." I went with him to the tribunal, and, to my surprise, the tribunal agreed that this man was genuine, and the very fact that he had learned the lesson of war in Spain was sufficient to have him registered as an objector and to secure him total exemption.

I want to refer to what the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said about one of the tribunals. Recently they had a case of a Scottish Nationalist who happened also to be a pacifist. He put his objections on pacifist grounds, and he appeared in court in a kilt. He was the son of a well-known Scottish author named Hugh McDiarmid. He happened to mention that he was a Scottish Nationalist. The tribunal took the view that he could not be genuine, and asked him all sorts of ridiculous questions, such as, "Have you the Stone of Destiny?" This man is absolutely genuine. He has been turned down by this tribunal, and now he goes through this cat-and-mouse procedure.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

I am afraid that was all my fault, because his father consulted me about it, and I advised him that there were now precedents for exemption of political conscientious objectors, which is perfectly true, and which lends substance to what my hon. Friend is saying, and shows how completely illogical these things are.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Butcher)

My predecessor in the Chair advised the Committee not to speak too long on individual cases.

Mr. Hughes

What happens to the Communists? They may be quite genuine, ordinary, working-class Communists. I do not want to refer to the upper hierarchy. I suggest that to take a Communist and shove him into the Army where he sees all the secret weapons, at a time when we are chucking Communists from the doors of the War Office, and to persecute him, is the limit of stupidity. I ask for a little common sense. Do remember that many of these young people have been led to believe in this point of view because of the philosophy and attitude of the pioneers of the Labour movement, and do remember that this House has a record of toleration and is not out for persecution. That is something which ought to be embodied in the legislation of this country.

Mr. Shinwell

I have listened with great care to the arguments presented by my hon. Friends and by hon. Members opposite. All that I have to say is that I remain unconvinced. The record of right hon. Members or hon. Members on this side is not in question, but if it should be questioned I would say for myself that I have never applied to any tribunal for release from service on conscientious grounds. I want to make that point quite clear.

Mr. McGovern

The right hon. Gentleman was exempt.

Mr. Shinwell

On quite different grounds—a form of National Service, undertaking duties on behalf of His Majesty's Government at the time. Do not let us question the position of Members on this bench, or on the back benches.

The arguments that have been adduced, if there is any logic in them at all, would demonstrate to the Committee that there is no virtue in any tribunal. That was the sustained argument of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He has demonstrated that tribunals are harsh, that they act unjustly and that they make mistakes. It depends on how making mistakes is interpreted. He has demonstrated, at any rate, that they do not operate to the advantage of some conscientious objectors. That is the argument, and therefore my hon. Friends are against the tribunals. My reply is that unless we are to relieve conscientious objectors on their own showing and declaration, of the obligation to serve in His Majesty's Forces, we must obviously have tribunals. We cannot leave it to the conscientious objector to say that he declines to serve without going to the tribunal to prove his case.

Mr. S. Silverman


Mr. Shinwell

I am not prepared to allow my hon. Friend to interrupt me any more. If he wishes to prolong the debate it is a matter for the Chair and the Committee, but not for me or for him. There has been a prolonged discussion and a repetition of argument all the way through. I repeat that the logical sequence of my hon. Friend's case is that we ought not to have reference to tribunals at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If we are to have reference to tribunals we have either to trust what these tribunals do, or we have to issue instructions with definite provisions upon which they can operate. That is clearly impossible. The conscientious objector can not only apply to a tribunal, but he can apply to an appellate tribunal if he is turned down in the first place.

It has been argued—and this is the most substantial argument that has been adduced so far—that if it is true, as I have ventured to suggest, that the Amendment is unnecessary because it is very unlikely that conscientious objectors will be treated in the manner suggested, then why not accept the Amendment? The reason is that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). He made it quite clear that this would be a precedent. It would be employed, if accepted, in relation to the National Service men. We can never accept that. I beg my hon. Friends to realise what they are doing.

Mr. Wyatt

It would not be such a precedent if it were specifically stated in Bill that it referred only to those called up for 15 days' training and not to those called up for three or 18 months.

Mr. Shinwell

The answer is that if it applied only to the 15-day period it would be quite unrealistic. We again get the demand that if it is unrealistic, why should we not accept the Amendment? We have given some attention to this. I have considered whether we could provide some formula to meet the objections, but we have come to the conclusion that it would he much too dangerous a precedent to accept. I repeat the assurance, and this is as far as I can go, that we shall exercise in the Service Departments and in the Ministry of Labour the greatest care in order to ensure that the administration will be conducted with the utmost humanity. It may be that this assurance is not enough and it will be said that the tribunal will pay no attention to it: but beyond that I cannot go.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale

Does my right hon. Friend mean that he is going back on the undertaking of the Secretary of State for Air given an hour or more ago?

Mr. Shinwell

That undertaking was that we would see if it was possible to find a formula. We have considered that and have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to find a formula. It is better to speak to the Committee with the utmost candour. I must ask the Committee to come to a conclusion on the matter, because we still have a long way to go.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

I should have been prepared to withdraw the Amendment on the undertaking given by the Secretary of State for Air, but with great regret I must say that the speech of the Minister of Defence has made it absolutely impossible for the Amendment to be withdrawn. Therefore, we shall have to divide the Committee.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes. 34: Noes, 295.

Division No. 48.] AYES [7.50 p.m.
Ayles, W. H. Granville, Edgar (Eye) Reid, William (Camlachie)
Bonn, Wedgwood Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Carmichael, J. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Clunie J. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Cove, W. G Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S) Longden, Fred (Small Heath) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Crcssman, R. H. S MoGovern, J. Thomas. David (Aberdare)
Davies, 'Harold (Leek) Messer, F. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Davies, Stephen (Merlhyr) Moeran, E. W. Yates, V. F.
Donnelly, D. Padley, W. E.
Fernyhough, E. Paton, J. TELLERS FOR IHE AYES:
Forman, J. C Poole, C. Mr. Fenner Brockway and
Rankin, J. Mr. Leslie Hale.
Albu, A. H. Braithwaite, Lt.-Cmdr, Gurney Chetwynd, G. R
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)
Alport, C. J. M. Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Clarke, Brig Terence (Portsmouth, W)
Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton) Brooks, T. J. (Normanton) Clyde J. L.
Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell) Broughton, Dr A D. D Cocks, F S
Arbuthnot, John Brown, George (Belper) Colegate, A.
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Brown, Thomas (Ince) Collindridge, F.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn. W.) Browne, Jack (Govan) Conant, Maj. R. J. E.
Astor, Hon. M. L. Buchan-Hepburn, P G. T Cooper, Geoffrey (Middlesbrough, W)
Baldwin, A. E. Bullock, Capt M. Cooper, John (Deptford)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Bullus, Wing Commander E E Cooper-Key, E. M.
Bartley, P. Burden, Squadron Leader F. A Corbet, Mrs. Freda (Peckham)
Bell, R. M. Burke, W A. Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)
Bishop, F. P. Burton, Miss E. Cranborne, Viscount
Blyton, W. R. Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col O E
Boardman, H. Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Crouch, R. F.
Bower, Norman Callaghan, L. J. Cullen, Mrs, A
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Cundiff, F, W
Boyle, Sir Edward Carson, Hon. E. Daines, P.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Champion, A. J Davidson, Viscountess
Braine, B. R Channon, H. Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H. Robinson, Roiand (Blackpool, S.)
Davies, Nigel (Epping) Kinley, J. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
de Chair, Somerset Lambert, Hon. G. Roper, Sir Harold
Deedes, W. F. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Roes, William (Kilmarnock)
Deer, G. Lennox, Boyd, A. T. Royle, C.
Delargy, H. J. Llewellyn, D. RusseLl, R. S.
Diamond, J. Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.) Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Digby, S. W. Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S. W.) Scott, Donald
Dodds, N. N Low, A. R. W. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Drewe, C. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Dulhie, W. S. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Simmons. C. J.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McAdden, S. J. Slater, J.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) MacColl, J. E. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Edwards, W. J (Stepney) McCorquodale, Rt. Hon M S Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) McInnes, J. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) McKibbin, A. Snadden, W. McN
Ewart, R. Maclay, Hon. John Snow, J. W.
Finch, H. J. Maclean, Fitzroy Soskioe, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Fisher, Nigel McLeavy, F. Sparks, J. A.
Follick, M. MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.) Spearman, A. C. M.
Foster, John MacLeod John (Ross and Cromarty) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard (N. Fylde)
Fraser, Sir I. (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Macmillan, Rt. Hon Harold (Bromley) Steele, T.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) MacMillan, Malcolm (Western, Isles) Stevens, G. P.
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Gage, C. H. Macpherson, Major Niall (Dumfries) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Mainwaring, W. H. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Maitland, Cmdr. J. W. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Gibson, C. W. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Gilzean, A. Mann, Mrs. Jean Stross, Dr. Barnett
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Manningham-Buller, R. E. Studholme, H. G.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield) Marples, A. E. Summers, G. S.
Grey, C. F. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Sutcliffe, H.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Marshall, Sidney (Sutton) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanefly) Maude, Angus (Ealing, S.) Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Medlicott, Brig. F. Taylor, Robert (Morpeth)
Grimston, Robert (Westbury) Mellor, Sir John Teeling, W.
Gunter, R. J. Mitchison, G. R. Teevan, T. L.
Hale, Joseph (Rochdale) Monckton, Sir Walter Thomas, Iorworth (Rhondda, W)
Hall, John (Gateshead, W.) Moody, A. S. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Hamilton, W. W. Morgan, Dr. H. B. Thompson, Lt.-Cmdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Hannan, W. Morley, R. Thorneycroft, Peter (Monmouth)
Harden, J. R. E Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Thorp, Brig. R. A. F.
Hargreaves, A. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Tilney, John
Harvey, Air Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Moyle, A.
Harvie-Watt, Sir G. S. Tomney, F.
Hastings, S. Murray, J. D, Touche, G. C.
Hayman, F. H. Nabarro, G. Turner, H. F. L.
Head, Brig. A. H. Nally, W. Viant, S. P.
Heald, Lionel Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Vosper, D. F.
Heath, Edward Nicholls, Harmar Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire. W.)
Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Tipton) Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Wallace, H. W.
Herbison, Miss M. Nugent, G. R. H. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. O'Brien, T. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Higgs, J. M. C. Odey, G. W. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Hirst, Geoffrey Oldfield, W. H Watkinson, H.
Hollis, M. C. Oliver, G. H. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Holman, P. Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Webbe, Sir Harold
Hope, Lord John Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Weitzman, D.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss P. Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare) Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Pargiter, G. A. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Hubbard, T. Parker, J. White, Baker (Canterbury)
Hudson W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Pearson, A. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Perkins, W. R. D. Wigg, G.
Hutchison, Lt.-Com Clark (E'b'rgh W.) Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Wilkins, W. A.
Hutchison, Colonel James Pickthorn, K. Willey, Frederick (Sunderland)
Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Porter, G. Williams, Charles (Torquay)
Hynd, H. (Acerington) Powell, J. Enoch Williams, David (Neath)
Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Jay, D. P. T. Proctor, W. T. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Jeffreys, General Sir George Profumo, J. D. Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Johnson, Major Howard (Kemptown) Pryde, D. J. Wise, F. J.
Johnson, James (Rugby) Pursey, Cmdr. H York, C.
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Raikes, H. V.
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Rayner, Brig. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Keenan, W. Rees, Mrs. D. Mr. Bowden and
Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge) Renton, D. L. M Mr. Kenneth Robinson.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Rhodes, H.

Question put accordingly, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I want to raise one short point, to which I hope the Government will give con- sideration before the next stage is reached. In the Clause the method of serving notices seems to be one which is not fully suitable for the purposes for which this Bill has been introduced. I quite agree that notice by post, provided a person has replied stating he has received it, is in itself satisfactory. As an alternative to that, the notice can be sent by registered post. My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) raised certain matters about this, and I think it should be carried a little further.

If a person can be brought before the courts on a prima facie charge of having committed an offence, in my contention it is not sufficient merely to prove the sending of a registered letter as a receipt of the notice. I know of cases in which registered letters have not been received by the person for whom they were intended. There is, of course, the extreme case of relatives who might very well keep a call-up notice from the person for whom it was intended because they did not want him to go.

Recently I came across a case, which was extremely interesting. A person who received a letter held it back purposely from the person for whom it was intended. It was sent under the old Army Act before it was amended, and it was in respect of service for the person to whom it was addressed. As a result of what happened the person for whom it was intended never got the notice, and the next thing that happened to him was that, to his amazement, he was arrested and brought before a court. It is true that he was eventually released. He was found to be not guilty of the offence with which he was charged, the offence of desertion. He was brought before a court martial and was humiliated, and many people believed that he had done something wrong. although he had not.

8.0 p.m.

It is highly important that we should not put people in peril of being suspected of having done something wrong. I would therefore ask that between now and the final stages of the Bill the Ministers dealing with it should consider this point. In the police courts, an attempt was made some years ago to minimise the cost of serving summonses. A way was found by attempting to serve the summons in the first place by post. If the individual concerned did not turn up, the summons was served personally upon him. It was not until he had been personally served that he was expected, and today is expected, to appear before the court. There are much smaller matters dealt with in the courts of summary jurisdiction than the one with which I am now concerned.

Protection should be given to the citizen, even though the cases may be few, and an opportunity given to him to be served properly. It should also be known that he has been served properly. If the notice is served by ordinary post and a note is put in for the recipient's reply, saying that he has received the notice, that procedure would probably deal with 99 per cent. of the cases, or even more. Where no reply was received, the procedure adopted could be the same as in courts of summary jurisdiction.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I found the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), intriguing, in two respects. I think he was in this House during our discussions on the National Service Bill, which were protracted and prolonged. His speech intrigued me, because either the arguments which were then advanced from this side of the House have just dawned upon him, or alternatively, he has completely forgotten that the whole of this subject was threshed out on that occasion.

Mr. Janner

Would the hon. and learned Member please remember, or at least look up. the debates that took place on this matter? He would find that I used similar arguments at that time in regard to the Service man.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

It would be interesting to know whether the hon. Gentleman voted in accordance with his speeches, Perhaps he can remember and tell us whether he voted with us in support of improving the conditions in regard to service. I note that his silence is an indication of what is so often the case on the benches opposite, a speech one way and a vote the other way. The hon. Gentleman has not served a very useful purpose by raising this argument, which was threshed out at length on that occasion. I do not think he did it so well as was done then, and I hope we shall not spend a great deal of time covering the ground which was covered on that occasion.

Whatever fears were mentioned at that time, I have heard very little complaint of the machinery of the call-up breaking down, and I do not see any reason to suppose that there will be much break down. If the man satisfies a court that he did not receive the notice, I am sure that the court will have regard to that fact in dealing with the case.

Mr. M. Stewart

I have given careful attention to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) but I think he is asking us to go beyond what is reasonable in the way of precaution. It is possible that when a registered letter is sent to one person some other person may prevent him from getting it, and it may land him with the inconvenience of being brought before a court. That is a grievance not against the Government or against an Act of Parliament, but against the person who intercepted his letter. One cannot protect individuals completely against the act of other private individuals in that manner.

I would confirm what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) that we have every reason to think that the provisions made here, which follow those of the National Service Act, will work adequately and that we can be confident that in the event of a person being brought before a court and being able to show that genuinely, and through no fault of his own, he has not received the notice, the court would not register a conviction. The general principles of the workings of the National Service Act justify us in keeping the provisions of the Clause.

Mr. Janner

Does my hon. Friend realise that the notices will be sent to persons concerned at their last known address, whatever that may mean. Does he think that if we make a mistake we ought not to rectify the position? The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) talks glibly about a person being brought before a court. What he may not appreciate—I do not know why, or perhaps I do; it is that the hon. and learned Member does not understand what happens in these courts—is that persons do not like appearing before a court when they are not guilty. I hope that this matter may be reconsidered.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.