HC Deb 07 February 1956 vol 548 cc1478-81
8. Mr. V. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for War why 22740318 Roger Kingsley Hobbs, having given notice of his conscientious objection on religious grounds, prior to declining fifteen days' service in the Army Emergency Reserve, was sentenced to fifty-six days in Colchester detention camp, forcibly undressed, paraded in civilian underpants in cold weather and taken to a cell where he was forcibly dressed in a canvas suit which was screwed at the back; and if he will give an assurance that such treatment will not be permitted in future.

Mr. Head

I apologise for the length of the reply, but this is a complicated case.

Private Hobbs completed two years' military training in November, 1954. He reported for part-time training on 24th September, 1955. On arrival he refused to obey an order to put on uniform and was sentenced by court-martial to fifty-six days' detention. He was sent to Colchester. On arrival there he was told to have a bath but refused to undress. His clothes were removed but no force was necessary as Private Hobbs did not resist.

After having a bath he refused to put on uniform and was dressed in shoes and underpants and waited in the reception room while the staff sergeant went to ask the adjutant what to do. Hobbs was then taken to another part of the building about a hundred and fifty yards away, where he was dressed in a canvas suit, which was the only clothing available which was neither plain clothes nor uniform. He put on this suit without assistance except to have it fastened at the back. No force was used.

Procedure to be adopted in the case of men who develop conscientious objection after having served in the Army is laid down in the National Service Act, 1948, Section 21, and we have to conform with that procedure. The effect of that Section is that a tribunal is not empowered to consider this type of case unless a soldier has been sentenced to three months' detention or more. Private Hobbs was not therefore eligible for a tribunal.

I have been into this case and I have given instructions that, in the particular circumstances, Private Hobbs will not again be called up for part-time training.

Mr. Yates

While thanking the Minister, and expressing appreciation of that answer, may I ask him whether he will look at this regulation again? It seems grossly out of accord with British justice that a man should be punished, especially in this way, without first having had a trial before the tribunal.

Mr. Head

I can recall the discussion on this subject in 1948 when the National Service Act was debated. The subject was most carefully gone into by the House at that time, and it was agreed that this law should stand. It is beyond the scope of Question and Answer to discuss its merits or demerits at Question Time.

Mr. Bellenger

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether soldiers are forced to have baths for hygienic or for disciplinary purposes?

Mr. Head

It is customary on arrival in detention barracks, as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) no doubt knows.

11. Mr. Dodds

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware of the concern arising from the fact that Sapper John Hugo Clother, possessing a B.Sc. in physics with honours, who was selected as a potential officer, has been informed by his commanding officer, without even an examination, that he will not be commissioned on any account; in what way this man's scientific ability is being used in the Royal Engineers, and what is contemplated in this respect for the future.

Mr. Head

Sapper Clother has been posted to an airfield construction squadron with a view to his employment as a soils laboratory assistant.

Mr. Dodds

Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that Sapper Clother became a security risk when it was realised that his father had been associated with a peace ballot? Why was this man, after having been selected as a potential officer, turned down without an examination or interview at the War Office? Can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his statement that he made every effort to employ this brilliant young man suitably with the fact that last week the man was on cookhouse duty for a week and the week before was an officer's batman? He is a brilliant young man.

Mr. Head

The question whether or not a commission is granted in the Army must rest with us. We have the responsibility in that direction, and it must rest with my Department.

Mr. Bottomley

Why was this young man encouraged to take steps leading ultimately to the expectation that he would become a commissioned officer and then told by his commanding officer, on instructions from the War Office, that nothing further could be done in the matter?

Mr. Head

For reasons which I am not prepared to go into, it was decided that this man was not suitable to go forward for a commission.

Mr. M. Stewart

Does the Minister accept my right hon. Friend's statement that the objection to this man arises from his father's political opinions? I think the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared either to confirm or deny that. If he confirms it, is it not a very undesirable principle?

Mr. Head

I merely said that I think that discretion in this matter must lie with my Department.

Mr. Dodds

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.