HC Deb 05 March 1951 vol 485 cc37-41

3.42 p.m.

Amendment proposed: In page 4, leave out lines 38 to 45, and insert: Provided that it shall be a defence for him 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 be 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.—[Mr. M. Stewart.]

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

I should like to say "thank you" to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for carrying out the undertaking he gave in Committee.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

During the Committee proceedings the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) proposed an Amendment which he agreed to withdraw after receiving an assurance from the Government that the point of his Amendment would be met. Many of us were unable to hear the actual terms of the Amendment proposed by the Government on which the right hon. Gentleman agreed to withdraw his Amendment, but we accepted an assurance that the wording of the Government Amendment would fully meet the point of the original Amendment, and that it was only a matter of technical form. The Secretary of State for Air said in Committee: This suggested alternative form of words completely covers the desires of the framers of the Amendment, and therefore I ask them to accept it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 2355.] It was on that assurance that the Committee agreed to allow the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment.

I wish to draw attention to the fact that in the original Amendment there was a reference to conscientious objectors, while in the form of words now proposed by the Government there is no such reference. In my view this makes a con- siderable change. I shall not go over the ground in detail, but this Bill makes no statutory provisions for conscientious objectors. All that has happened is that the Minister has given us a promise that their problems will be dealt with administratively. I urge that consideration should still be given to the original Amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley, and that there should be included in the final form of words a reference to conscientious objectors so that they may have this statutory provision.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

In Committee the Secretary of State for Air undertook to repeat this proviso in Clause 3. I cannot discuss it now because on the Report stage we do not have the opportunity of discussing a Clause on the Question that it stand part of the Bill, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman can say something about it now. The point is that a different set of liabilities and punishments applies to Clause 3, and if a man is claiming exemption from call-up under Clause 2 he obviously will not want to present himself for medical examination under Clause 3. There must therefore be this same proviso attaching to Clause 3 as to Clause 2. The Under-Secretary of State for War seems to have difficulty in getting the point, but the Secretary of State for Air was present when this was debated in Committee and he understands the point. I think he will agree that in another place there must be introduced just such a proviso in order to exempt men from the penalties attaching to them under Clause 3.

3.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Michael Stewart)

First let me deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway). He is not quite right on procedure. In Committee the Amendment to which he referred was not withdrawn but incorporated in the Bill. What we are now doing is taking it out again and putting in our proposed Amendment. That procedure was adopted for the express purpose of giving the House an opportunity to consider this Amendment on its merits. I assure the House that the Amendment we are now considering secures exactly what my hon. Friend has in mind, and what the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), who moved the original Amendment, had in mind. The provisions in this Amendment, where it refers to the arrangements notified to a person by the Service Authority, and the further phrase, either generally or as respects any period mean that any claim for exemption, made either on conscientious grounds or on grounds of domestic or business hardship, will be given an opportunity for notification, which obviously is made clear to the person concerned at the same time as a warning notice is sent to him.

It is true, as my hon. Friend says, that we have not made statutory provision for conscientious objection; and, indeed, in view of the various types of person mentioned in the Bill, there would be very serious difficulty about doing so. However, as the House knows, it is well understood that the arrangements are there for persons who register conscientious objection if they are called up under this Bill. In view of the fact that that is generally known and accepted, and that that was acceptable both on Second Reading and in Committee, I hope the House will be prepared to accept this Amendment as it stands.

The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will remember that the undertaking given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Air was to look into the point the noble Lord raised in Committee to see whether such a proviso could be introduced, without expressly committing himself to introducing such a proviso. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend has addressed a communication to the noble Lord, which he may not yet have received, dealing with this matter in some detail.

The point really at issue is this: A man may make application on conscientious grounds, and that is largely what we are concerned with, to be exempted from call-up. That application is then in the process of being dealt with in the proper manner. While it is still under discussion, he receives a notice requiring him to submit himself for medical examination. If he is able to say "Well, a decision has not been made on my application yet, therefore, I will not come for medical examination," we should be faced with this difficulty. If he did not come, and the decision on conscientious grounds was given against him, time would have passed by, and we should then, perhaps too late for convenience, have to call him up for medical examination.

It is not unreasonable to say, "What we are asking you to do now is to have a medical examination. If your application on conscientious grounds is approved, then you will not be called up, and your medical examination will in fact have been unnecessary. But it is not unreasonable, while the matter is still under consideration, to ask you to undergo medical examination. It commits you to nothing and in no way prejudices the hearing of your appeal on conscientious grounds." I think that it would be unreasonable for any one to object to going for medical examination in those circumstances. If, before it was necessary to call him for medical examination, his claim had already been decided in his favour, then, of course, he would not be called for medical examination. I hope that the noble Lord and the House will accept that no injustice or hardship is imposed on any one by the absence of such a proviso from the Bill.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

There is one point about the hon. Gentleman's argument to which I should like to refer. He says that it is generally understood that conscientious objectors will be provided for because of the arrangement understood outside this Bill. There is nothing about conscientious objectors in this Bill at all, and the phrase" either generally or as respects any period" would not cover in this Bill conscientious objectors. Conscientious objectors are specifically provided for under the National Service Acts. Had there been a Clause or phrase in the general Clauses at the end of the Bill, that this Bill is to be read with the relevant National Service Acts, I agree that they would be covered, but, as it stands, I very much doubt if they are covered. The last Clause should be so amended as to include the National Service Acts and this Bill should be read together with those Acts.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

May I put a question?

Mr. Speaker

Only by leave of the House.

Mr. Brockway

I want to ask whether, in the hon. Gentleman's view, the phrase: In accordance with the arrangements in that behalf made by the Service Authority, would apply to conscientious objectors, considering that there is no statutory provision under this Bill for them at all.

Mr. Stewart

If I may reply, with the leave of the House, the answer is "Yes." With regard to the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think that I made it clear that I was accepting the position that there is no provision by statute for conscientious objectors. He seemed to think that I suggested that there was; there is not. In view of the persons mentioned in the tables of the Bill, it is, on the whole, desirable that there should not be.

Amendment agreed to.