HL Deb 04 July 1916 vol 22 cc521-46

EARL RUSSELL rose to call attention to the operation of the Military Service Act with regard to conscientious objectors who have not been so found by the Tribunals, to the case of C. H. Norman, and to complaints of brutal treatment at Wandsworth Detention Barracks and of the commandant, Lieut.-Colonel Reginald Brooke, and to move to resolve—

That in the opinion of this House it is undesirable to subject military prisoners to punishments not authorised by law.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have to call your attention this afternoon to some extremely painful matters. We have had in this House one or two small discussions on the question of the conscientious objector, but they have generally dealt rather with legal considerations than with the actual facts. To-day, even at the risk of wearying your Lordships, I think it necessary that some of the actual facts should be placed before this House. Your Lordships are familiar, from the discussions we have already had, with the fact that the Act provided that there should be an exemption for conscientious objectors who were so found by the Tribunals. The Question that I have put down relates to objectors who were not found to be conscientious objectors by the Tribunals, and I venture to say that almost every one of these represents a case in which the Tribunal has failed to carry out the duty which Parliament imposed upon it. I know the suggestion has been made, in answer to previous Questions, that the men concerned have been found by a competent authority, sometimes not once but twice, not to be conscientious objectors, and therefore they have to be considered as ordinary soldiers. The noble Marquess opposite (Lord Salisbury), who has experience on the Central Tribunal, knows, I think, that the Tribunals have not always succeeded in adequately distinguishing between them, and that the instances in which they have failed to give that relief which the Act of Parliament contemplated are not mere ones and twos, but are, unfortunately, more numerous than they should be.

When the Tribunal has not been effective in carrying out the duties imposed upon it, you have the result that there is drafted into the Army and into the military machine technically a soldier—merely technically a soldier—a person who is, in fact, a conscientious objector to any form of military service There then at once arises the inevitable result. There is a conflict with discipline, the discipline of the Army. The persons who administer the military machine cannot be expected to put up with breaches of discipline. The conscientious objector, if he is, in fact, one, whether he can be expected to or not—and apparently by the Army authorities he sometimes is expected to—does not, in fact, submit to the military discipline, and you get the inevitable conflict which has had many unfortunate instances to which I will draw your Lordships' attention.

There are, of course, legal punishments of all kinds provided for refusal to obey discipline, but there has also been in a great number of cases a great deal of illegal pressure and illegal punishments, and it is to those that I desire to draw your Lordships' attention to-day. The object of that punishment is very easy to understand. It is administered by people who are of opinion that a conscience can be formed, or at any rate that the conclusions of a conscience can be modified, by sufficient physical pain and ill-treatment, and they hope, by the ill-treatment of persons who occupy this position, to make them give up their position and to serve in the Army without raising their conscientious objections; and in some cases they have succeeded, as your Lordships will hear.

I now propose to read to your Lordships some of the circumstances that have happened. This is a case from a barracks where several reports have been collected. This writer says— It has been a terrible day for them. One of them, S., has given in. They were stripped and scrubbed up and down fiercely several times. ' Horrible torture,' they said. One fainted. We saw the corporal, and he was nearly insane— That is the corporal who had been administering this form of illegal punishment— He had had such a terrible day with C.O.'s that he wanted to chuck the job and go to the cells instead. He was told to go on and he swore horribly, saying he would break our hearts and kill us to-morrow…. It is a most terrible ordeal…. A military prison seems to be a special place for torturing us. Another man says— When we refused to obey orders we were either kicked in the back or hit in the face, in addition to being dragged round by the ears. … B. is the biggest brute I have ever seen, read or heard of. There are now only four sticking it, and they have just had a scrub and been badly kicked. K. and R. can hardly walk. Another report, referring to the same man, runs— The greatest bully in the camp, Lance-corporal B. (6 ft. 6 in. in height), after a time kicked us out of the tent and tried to make us march. A.I. got badly kicked on the leg. T.B. and D.C. each got a terrible blow on the side of the head. W.H. got his face badly scratched. J.J. got a thick ear and his nose bursted, while I had a stunning upper-cut breaking a tooth. He put us on our backs and ate his breakfast in front of us as we lay there (we got no breakfast). We were taken to the washhouse, and there—gave in. … It was a terribly brutal ordeal. Another, referring to the same corporal— Also I. was kicked terribly; he can only crawl along leaning on me in terrible pain. In these cases, as your Lordships will notice, the treatment had had the results hoped for. A visitor to this camp writes— The four persons are still standing out, and of the five who were sent here on Saturday all have given in except D. and S. … I saw the fellow, Lance-corporal B., who has been the person to give the brutal treatment. … When he learned who I was, he made it in his way to come round by me (while I was waiting to see the commanding officer) to say ' I've only seven now! ' The commanding officer would not yield. He would not admit that the men were being badly used, and said that so long as they were in the Army they must yield to discipline. I pleaded for a Court-Martial very hard indeed, but he would not promise to give one. He pointed to the fact that so many had given way already! We talked a good deal about the Army, Prussianism, etc., and, after telling us what they would do with such like in Germany, ' Yes ' he said with pride ' and in Russia,' and he would be glad if they could do it here…. It is most pathetic to see our boys; they looked so ill, worn, and depressed. Here is another case— The commandant said ' Take him to the special room.' Four of them then set on me. … The sergeant I have mentioned deliberately punched me behind the ear, and all of them set on me again and bruised me more. A little further on— We are getting knocked about in a terrible manner. We have been threatened to be shot—a message from the War Office, I was told. They are trying to stop letters from getting out. We are all getting bashed about. H. and I fainted to-day. F. has a swollen face. Your Lordships know that persons of ordinary health and of military age do not faint readily from comparatively slight knockings-about.

Here, in this same report, is an illustration of the effect which this unfortunate conduct is having upon discipline, one of the things which I myself most desire to remove— To-day they dragged another to church, which struck one as rather blasphemous. The opinion in the ranks is that they deserve what they get, but already I note a slight but very slight change in the demeanour of some of the men, chiefly old soldiers, or men who have knocked about the world. The corporal who beat his man on the face expressed great respect for him in my hearing, but doubted whether he could ' hold out against such a mighty big machine.' I am not particularly squeamish, having seen and taken part in many curious things … I believe that the majority of the cases I have been reading to your Lordships refer to Wandsworth Detention Barracks, but there are also several very bad cases which have been supplied to me from the Whitchurch (Salop) Barracks. Some of these cases referring to Lance-Corporal Barker, the man called "B," are from Whitchurch. This is one of the things this man said— ' You are the damned ring-leader. I'll break your bloody heart. I've tamed the others. I'll scrub you myself; you're my man. I'll scrub you until the blood comes.' ' He scrubbed me cruel,' says this man; ' I was forced to cry out …' Here is the case of a man who was ordered to fall in— I refused, explaining that I was a conscientious objector. The commanding officer then called upon Corporal Barker, who had been specially sent for to deal with us. This is, again, the same man. Apparently that was the way in which he dealt with them. This is from another letter— He said ' March.' We did not. He kicked me on the ankle. I fell. He then kicked me just below the knee; it is bruised yet. He again said ' March.' I staggered along slowly, so he kicked me again on the thigh. I went down again. I thought my leg was broken. I felt some one helping me up. It was Ban. He helped me back to the tent. I could not walk myself. Then we were taken to the baths and scrubbed with a stiff sink brush. Dan practically appealed to be shot. So you can reckon what it was. We were followed by about 4,000 men, a lot of them booing.

It may be suggested, and it has been suggested, that these stories are not true. I say at once that as far as I am concerned I am not prepared to accept any official denial of these stories, and that I should not be prepared to believe in any inquiry that was not conducted by independent people who were in no way under the domination of any official pressure whatever. These stories—I say at once that I am not acquainted with them myself—come from people who I am assured are reliable; and your Lordships heard the speech which was made by the most rev. Primate the other night in this House. The most rev. Primate is not, I think, too ready to array himself against authority, or to give any support whatever to law breakers. Nor would your Lordships think that he was a man likely readily to believe stories of this kind which were without foundation. But he himself told you that the evidence was such that he was convinced that unfortunate incidents had taken place—incidents of the character which I have been reading to your Lordships. I say, therefore, that official denials will convey no conviction to me, and ought not to convey any conviction to any member of the public. These things have been officially denied in the other House, where they cannot be challenged and where no debate can be raised on a Question. The Government are responsible—every member of the Government is responsible—for allowing anything of this kind to continue, and every one of your Lordships is responsible if you do not protest against this kind of treatment and allow it to continue. It is not a responsibility that can be shelved by professing not to believe the stories, or by thinking that one has not personally ordered it, or by thinking that it is taking place unofficially and unauthorised in barracks. It is a responsibility which every one of us must share, the Government most of all, if it is allowed to continue one moment after attention has been drawn to it.

I now want to call attention to the special case of Mr. C. H. Norman. In this instance I know the man myself. I have known him for several years, and can assure your Lordships that I am prepared to accept as absolutely correct any statement that he makes. I have no sympathy with his opinions and am quite willing to admit that he is in many ways a very wrong-headed and very obstinate person. But the point with which I am dealing is merely the question of how he was treated. This is a diary of what happened to him at the Wandsworth Detention Barracks on the 23rd or 24th of May of this year— Met with shower of abuse on arrival. Asked for some paper to make will. They asked whether I would put on uniform—refused. Taken to cell and forcibly dressed. Repeated request to make will, as I might not be alive more than three or four days. Officer went to commandant. I was taken to reception room and signed for things. Commandant arrived, and without a word to me ordered me to be taken to hospital and put in strait jacket. Was taken there and put in strait jacket, which was too small and caused me great pain. I told the attendant, but he could do nothing. Commandant and another officer arrived. Commandant mocked at me and spat at me. Other officer asked whether I was all right—a question which amused me in the circumstances. Medical officer came about 8 p.m., but did not explain anything. He said commandant had said I had threatened suicide. I told him I had asked to make my will, and that was all. I could not move myself in strait jacket and suffered a good deal, because I wanted to go to the lavatory but was lying on the floor and could not attract the attendant's attention. I did finally and went, and then was left standing. I had asked in the beginning for a chair, but was refused it…Sergeant-major came in and another officer, and asked how I was. I told him I was feeling ill. Medical officer came at ten, and released me on my giving my word against doing harm whilst under his authority. On the next day I was in hospital. On asking leave to write to my solicitor or friends, commandant swore and spat at me, expressing hope that the medical officer would put me in strait jacket again. … On the 26th May the commandant visited me again, cursed me, and said he wished I would cut my throat; that I was a coward who ought to be shot. Also spat at me.… June 1st, ordered to parade by commandant, who again cursed me, and said I should be sent to France and that it was a pity I was afraid to kill myself. Commandant again said I should be put in strait jacket. Ordered C.D. 1 and put in darkish cell; bread and water diet; all privileges taken. I have also received a letter from Norman's father, a portion of which I propose to read to your Lordships— As the father of this young man, I can say without the least hesitation that his strongest convictions for years before the war were entirely anti-pathetic to every form of military influence— I am quite able to endorse that, and if ever there is or has been a conscientious objector, a person with every possible sign of the crank about him, it is this gentleman, C. H. Norman. The letter from the father goes on— It cannot possibly be in the interest of the nation that a young man of talent, imbued with strong intellectual convictions (however mistaken), and who has always had the public interest if anything too much at heart, should be subjected to every form of degradation and physical suffering because he will not abate the full force of his conscientious scruples. Since these events, of which I have read you the diary, Norman has been court-martialled and sentenced to two years detention. At least I gather it is detention from the fact that he remained in barracks and was subject to military control; at any rate, he has not been removed to a civil prison under the understanding—referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, the other day—regarding the operation of the new Army Order, and I saw the other day in the newspapers that there has been a second Court-Martial on this same man. The reason for a second Court-Martial while he is serving one sentence and the effect of it I do not know, but I shall be glad to learn; and I shall also be glad to learn whether it is proposed to remove this man, who has suffered so much under military discipline and control. If he is not to be removed it is a breach of the spirit of the Act and of the Tribunals and of the Army Order, because he is, to my knowledge, a perfectly honest conscientious objector and a person who ought to have whatever relief is to be extended to such.

I have also stated that I desire to call attention to the commandant referred to in the diary which I have read. The commandant is Lieut.-Colonel Reginald Brooke, and the facts in some of these cases connected with him cannot be denied, because they are in writing in his own hand and are therefore available to confute anybody who attempts to deny them. This was a case in which a man had written a letter referring to the treatment of somebody else, and the commandant refused to let it out of the camp. Of that, naturally, I make no complaint. But he wrote on it this endorsement— Letter returned. Not of the sort I will pass. If your news as to Private Rendal Wyatt is true I am delighted to hear it, and sincerely hope the whole lot of the conscientious objectors will be treated in the same way. (Signed) REGINALD BROOKE, Lt.-Col. Commandant, May 19, 1916. He was also sent an inquiry about another conscientious objector named Forrester, and to this he replied— Private Forrester was given sentence by me, and I shall continue to act in my Barracks according to my orders, without any regard to what you and the ' so-called public ' may think. I do not care one atom for public opinion. On another occasion he said to the father of two men who were suffering there— I mean to make these men soldiers, and I shall continue to give them severe punishment while they disobey military orders. I don't care for Asquith or Parliament. I shall do just as I like with these men. I am not sure whether it was not, perhaps, the sacrilege committed in his reference to the Prime Minister that has caused him to be removed from his position, rather than his treatment of these men. He said to another conscientious objector— I don't care a damn for your conscience. You'll do what you are told, or by God I'll make your life a hell. You will be put in a strait jacket twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four, and don't you think you'll leave this place when your time is up. I have power to bring you before a General Court-Martial and keep you here in my charge. It may well seem incredible to your Lordships that anybody occupying an official position of this responsibility could act and speak in this way. I should like to inquire why this gentleman has been removed, and whether there is supposed to be any truth in any of the statements that have been made about him, or whether his removal has been in the nature of a promotion. If any of these statements are true I should have thought that the proper course to take would have been to have a Court-Martial upon him, and afford these people the opportunity of giving their evidence and having the matter dealt with on oath. That course has not been taken. And when one remembers that his immediate official superior, or at any rate the person who deals with conscientious objectors at the War Office, is Brigadier-General Childs, to whom I have called your Lordships' attention before, one may, perhaps, not wonder that brutality in a subordinate is excused or winked at.


Oh, oh!


The noble Lord says "Oh, oh." I will give you my reasons why I say that. Brigadier-General Childs was asked whether he knew any Quakers, and he replied that he was glad he did not. Since then he has given evidence and been cross-examined, and I understand he said he thought the best thing to do with conscientious objectors was to have them all shot, although the words he used referred to Army Order IX (a) which I understand has the same meaning. I do not know whether the noble Lord will deny that this has been said by this officer on oath and in public. I came across, in The Times on Monday, an interesting address by no less a person than His Majesty to the cadets at Sandhurst on the duty of an officer, in the course of which the King said— You must cultivate a high standard of honour and moral conduct. … These qualities have always been the distinguishing characteristics of officers in the British Army. Is it contended, in view of what has been said, and in view of what cannot be denied without an official Inquiry at which these people are given an opportunity of making these charges—is it contended that this gentleman to whom I refer comes within that definition, and that he behaves as one would desire a British officer to behave?

There have been other incidents at other barracks, but I desire to-day only to call attention to those which I have mentioned. But I would ask what is intended to be done in this matter. There are only two logical courses. I need hardly say that, characteristically, neither has been taken. One course is to regard these people as outlaws entitled to no sympathy and to no consideration, and in that case the best and kindest thing is to shoot them out of hand if you feel justified in doing that. The other course is the one that was contemplated by the Act of Parliament when it contained the clause in question. You may treat these men as lunatics, if you like, but they are people holding opinions so strong that you cannot influence those opinions by argument nor by physical persecution. You can apparently, as I showed in the earlier instances, cow them to the extent of making them, through sheer terror, do that of which their conscience disapproves, but that is a method which I, and I think all of your Lordships, deprecate.

The official answer, no doubt, will be what we have heard before—that these men have had the opportunity of going before the Tribunals, and that the Tribunals have refused their claim. As a matter of fact, in the case of Norman, he did not go before the Tribunal, although of course he had only himself to thank for that. But when it turns out that these men are conscientious objectors in fact, that answer will not do. Since I put this Question on the Paper we have had an important statement by Mr. Asquith. After making it, Mr. Asquith said— I think, perhaps, I may appeal to my hon. friends to read my statement carefully in print. I have taken that course, and when this statement was referred to last week I ventured to think that it would have to be read very carefully before we could suppose that it carried out what we understood was the intention—that is, that these men should be civilly imprisoned and dealt with civilly when it was found that they were real conscientious objectors. The Prime Minister's statement began— The procedure to be adopted by the War Office in the case of soldiers, under Army Order X, of May 25, 1916, sentenced to imprisonment for refusing to obey orders, is as follows … The first thing that is not clear is whether this applies to those who were sentenced before Army Order X was issued. The second point is that it is limited to a sentence of imprisonment. You can sentence a man to two years detention in barracks, and so escape sending him into civil custody. This is an evasion which makes the Order unsatisfactory. The only thing that will make it satisfactory is that every one of these unfortunate men—mistaken, if you like, but at any rate very unfortunate in the way in which they are being treated—should be brought under civil custody, and that there should be no technical quibbling differences as to when their sentence was and the form it took. The Prime Minister's statement goes on— All Court-Martial proceedings on conscientious objectors will be referred for scrutiny to the War Office. It is then said that if they supply the information required in the questions it will be examined into. I hope they will all be advised to supply that information and have it examined into. But I have seen some of these people. They are extraordinarily unreasonable, and it may quite well be that some of them will not do that. Then the Prime Minister said— If the information is refused … the prisoner will remain under military control, his sentence will at once be commuted to detention, and he will be sent to a detention barrack to undergo his sentence. What exactly is the meaning of that? Why are they to be sent back to military control unless it is to be assumed that they are shirkers, and then what is to be done with them beyond imprisoning? I think the Prime Minister's statement does not go sufficiently far, and does not make it sufficiently clear that these men are going to be properly dealt with.

This gradual growth, as it has been, of militarism in this country—and militarism, as Mr. Bodkin said when prosecuting for the Crown, in a sinister sense—requires to be looked into. It will not be put up with indefinitely by the people of this country, and it will not be got over by denying the facts or by issuing Orders which do not honestly deal with the difficulty. My own impression is that, to begin with, there were very few people indeed who had any sympathy with the conscientious objector, or who were in the least anxious to fight his cause in any way. But I am perfectly certain that the action that has been taken by the Government and the conduct which has been allowed to be meted out to these men has been such as to produce an unfortunate and most undesirable sympathy for them, and has also to a very considerable extent helped to injure discipline in the ranks of the Army. I am as anxious as any member of the Government can be to remove that, and I ask the Government to endeavour to deal with the matter seriously and in a comprehensive spirit.

But all that I have called attention to to-day are the illegalities which have been committed. I think there is no politician, no statesman, no member of your Lordships' House, who would be prepared to say that he is in favour of a prisoner of any kind, for whatever reason, being subjected to illegal or brutal treatment. These knockings-about to which I have called attention are no part of any official sentence and they are illegal, and I hope that an expression of opinion by your Lordships will lead to those who have to deal with these men realising that if they punish them as, so long as matters go on as they are, they are bound to do, they must punish them in accordance with the law, and not by methods which are extra-legal and which are unfortunate and do a great deal of harm. I do not think any of your Lordships will disagree with the Resolution which I now beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is undesirable to subject military prisoners to punishments not authorised by law.—(Earl Russell.)


My Lords, the noble Earl has made his statement, if he will allow me to say so, in a temperate fashion, and with that lucidity of expression to which we are accustomed from him in this House. I regret, however, that he made an attack upon one individual in the War Office—General Childs. As to the statement which the noble Earl says General Childs made use of the other day on oath before a Court, I certainly did not see it; but the noble Earl did make reference the other day to the fact that General Childs, when asked whether he knew any Quakers, replied "No, I know no Quakers, thank God." I think it is possible to attach too much importance to a statement of that kind. Had bitterness been intended, it would have been very easy to have formed a much more disagreeable sentence. Perhaps I may point out that this particular officer is one of great capability and great zeal, and I will go further and say, without fear of contradiction, that he is and has been a good friend to the conscientious objector. He has been instrumental, in the branch of the War Office in which he is employed, in reducing sentences and stretching privileges. I also know that he has been in communication verbally and by letter with various ministers of religion and also with officials of the Quaker Society, and I have seen appreciative letters which these people have written to him. He has been in close touch with these people and has always been accessible. So much I should like to say for General Childs.

The noble Earl covered a certain amount of ground. He said, in the last few words of his speech, that he particularly dealt with certain cases. But he did point out that prisoners were being subjected to illegal sentences, and he quoted three or four cases which he said had been denied, I understood, in the House of Commons.


Some of them.


The noble Earl will forgive me if I do not go into the details of these cases. I am not in a position to do so. He also mentioned the Prime Minister's statement. If he will allow me, I will take two or three of the various points he has raised in particular order, which may perhaps run more consecutively and be more convenient to the House. In regard to the case of Mr. Norman, whom the noble Earl mentioned as serving two years detention imposed by a Court-Martial, I do not know when that person was sentenced, but I believe I am correct in saying that no man is undergoing a sentence of more than 118 days in a detention barrack; and in regard to his being court-martialled a second time, I think the explanation is this. For insubordination, for refusing to obey orders, instead of the man being punished by the commandant of the prison, the commandant can set him back for Court-Martial, the result of which will be, if the man is convicted, that he will be sentenced to imprisonment in a civil prison in accordance with Army Order X, to which we referred the other day.

In regard to the eases that the noble Earl mentioned, noble Lords will readily understand that a variety of reports get about. Some are substantiated and some are not, and the evidence is contradictory. But in regard to the particular case of the man Norman, it is stated that he threatened to commit suicide; that he wanted to make his will because he wished to commit suicide. That being so, the order was given to put him under restraint, as the official term goes. This meant putting him into what I understand is a canvas waistcoat. Then he also either did, or threatened to, hunger strike. The consequence was that he had to be forcibly fed; that also requires restraint. But when either of these courses—restraint or forcible feeding—has to be resorted to, it is done under the supervision of a medical officer, who has in his report to state the time at which the treatment took place and the duration of the restraint. As regards forcible feeding, understand that this takes ten minutes, but that the prisoner is kept under restraint for somewhere about an hour to prevent artificial regurgitation.


The noble Lord will remember that I purposely abstained from making any complaint about forcible feeding.


Quite so. I am only stating the facts. There were five other prisoners, conscientious objectors, in this barrack, because they had refused to drill, and they had no complaints to make. As is known, this commandant has been relieved; but it has been reported that he did not act illegally, and that he did not exceed the powers that were given him.

The noble Earl went on to say that there was a variety of punishments. I do not know whether he used the term, but I rather gathered that what he meant was that punishments were invented or improvised for dealing with conscientious objectors outside what is legally laid down. I will give reasons in a moment to show that provision is made that such various punishments are not, or cannot be, made use of. The system of discipline in a military prison and detention barracks is laid down in what are known as the Rules for Military Prisons and for Detention Barracks. They are made by the Secretary of State under Section 133 of the Army Act and are laid on the Tables of both Houses of Parliament for a period, I believe, of forty days, though as to that I will not be quite certain—it may be thirty days. The noble Earl gave instances of how a non-commissioned officer had kicked one man in the back, hit another man behind the ear, and so on. Again, by Section 37 of the Army Act such cases are provided for. When they are brought to light, the punishment is severe. In the case of an officer, he is liable to be cashiered; and in the case of a non-commissioned officer, severe punishment is provided for.

From what the noble Earl told us, this treatment to which he called attention is, in his view, going on not only in one barrack but in two or three. Now in connection with every detention barrack and every military prison there are officers known as prison visitors. The Rules laid down for the conduct of these officers are, like the others I have mentioned, laid on the Tables of both Houses of Parliament and come under Section 133 of the Army Act. I think the simplest plan to make the matter quite clear would be for me to read the Rules which apply to official visitors. They are— An officer, if possible not below the rank of Field Officer, shall be detailed weekly by the General Officer Commanding, or Officer Commanding the station, as detention barrack or military prison visitor. He shall see all soldiers under punishment and any other soldiers under sentence who desire to make a complaint, and shall inquire into such complaints and report direct to the General Officer Commanding. Complaints of soldiers under sentence may be heard in private. A visitor appointed under this Rule is entitled to obtain access to all or any part of the detention barrack or prison, to see all men or any man under sentence, to inquire into the work and general conditions of the establishment, and to make such report to the General Officer Commanding or the Officer Commanding the station as he may think fit. In the event of such report being unfavourable a copy will be forwarded confidentially to the War Office, and the fact that this is being done will be recorded in the Visitors' Minute Book. It will rest with the General Officer Commanding or the Officer Commanding the station, on receipt of such report, either personally to inspect the detention barrack or prison, or to take such other steps as he may consider desirable. The noble Earl used the expression that these men are only technically soldiers. We all remember the Act that was passed a short time ago in which it was stated in Section 1, subsection (1), that every male between certain ages and on a certain date should be deemed to be a soldier and passed into the Reserve. I do not see how the noble Earl can get round that. To my mind it is as clear as possible that all these men are soldiers unless exempted. Of course, there are always a great many people who let everything slide, who pay no attention to notices or proclamations, some owing to carelessness and some advisedly. These men, not obeying the summons, are absent without leave; and when a man is absent for over twenty-one days he is declared, under Section 72 of the Army Act, by a Court of Inquiry to be a deserter and is liable to apprehension by a constable. Then in the course of time he can be handed over by a magistrate to an escort to be taken to barracks; and this is the only way as I understand, by which that person can be tried, he being beyond the procedure of a civil Court.

Then comes the following process. The commanding officer, if he thought the circumstances warranted and subject to superior authority, might deal with the case summarily—that is, if he did not wish a man to begin his military service by serving a Court-Martial sentence—and inflict a punishment up to twenty-eight days in a detention barrack. I am speaking of the ordinary case, the case of alleged desertion. On the other hand, he has to give the man the option whether he would prefer to be tried by a Court-Martial—that is under Section 46; and if at the Court-Martial the man makes representation as to a conscientious objection, the case is, after confirmation, referred for scrutiny to the War Office. This is a particular point which the noble Earl mentioned. But that scrutiny is made with the sole object of ascertaining, if possible, by the Court-Martial proceedings, whether the man had been before the Tribunal, and if such be the case the records of the Tribunal are obtained with a view of supplying material to the Central Appeal Tribunal which may help them to form their decision.

The Prime Minister's statement was mentioned by the noble Earl, and with your Lordships' permission I should like to make a remark or two about it. In regard to conscientious objectors, there are two kinds under confinement—the first, who are obeying orders and behaving well in the detention barrack, and the others who refuse to obey any order at all. Those who refuse to obey any order at all—and this has a bearing on what the noble Earl said—are, I believe, being remanded to trial by Court-Martial, which will result in their passing into a civil prison. They represent themselves to be conscientious objectors, and they will be dealt with by the Army Order.


Even if their sentence was before the promulgation of the Order?


I will answer that in a moment. I think it will be found, if these men misbehave themselves that instead of being punished by the commandant they will be set back to Court-Martial. That is my belief, and in accordance with the Prime Minister's statement they will be sentenced then to imprisonment in a civil prison. Men who are held to be genuine conscientious objectors will be released from the civil prison on their undertaking to perform work of national importance under civil control for the duration of the war. They will be transferred pro forma to Section W of the Army Reserve, and they will cease to be subject to military discipline or the Army Act so long as they continue to carry out satisfactorily the duties imposed upon them. And if they do not behave properly, they will then be put back to the civil prison to complete their sentence. If the man will not do national work, he will complete his sentence of civil imprisonment and then be discharged from the Army. Where a man, asserting himself to be a conscientious objector, refuses to give any information, and in all cases where the plea is not sustained, the sentence, under Army Order X, will at once be commuted to detention, and the man will be sent to a detention barrack to undergo his sentence and will there be under military discipline. As to detention, as I have said, I do not think anybody is undergoing a sentence of more than 118 days.

Doubts have been expressed that the Army Council will not follow the advice of the Central Appeal Tribunal. I do not think there need be any fear of that. The Army Council will never interfere with the final decisions of this body. That was endorsed in a statement by the Prime Minister in reply to a question last night. He said that the final decision as to the genuineness of a conscientious objection would rest solely and wholly with the Central Appeal Tribunal. I may add that the Central Appeal Tribunal who are to exercise this important function, in addition to sitting on and sifting these cases, will frame the questions that it is desirable to put, and the only part which the Army Council will play will be that after the Home Secretary has released the man from the civil prison the Army Council will then be the instrument to release him from military law and discipline.

Now a word as to Lord Kitchener's statement that "the genuine conscientious objector will find himself under the civil power." This delicate question either was being considered or had been considered when that national calamity occurred and Lord Kitchener lost his life. I believe that Lord Kitchener had in his mind the conscientious objector purely from the religious point of view. But, as I read it, the Prime Minister's statement, taking the term "conscientious objector" as it appears in the Act, is all-embracing. I am sorry I forgot to mention one thing. I particularly wish to read what was said by the Prime Minister in regard to the scrutiny of these Courts-Martial— All Court-Martial proceedings on conscientious objectors will be referred for scrutiny to the War Office. With regard to the cases of those who have been before a Tribunal, the records will be consulted. If the data therein are not sufficient, further investigation will be made; answers to categorical questions will be required, and those who have knowledge of the man's antecedents, such as ministers of religion, may be consulted. With regard to those who have never been before a Tribunal, the first step will be to require them to answer the categorical questions which the Tribunal might have put. If the information is supplied investigation will be made into those answers, and for the purpose of such investigation, and in all cases where a prima facie case is established, the Army Council will depend on the advice of the Central Appeal Tribunal, or a committee of that Tribunal who have consented to lend their assistance for this purpose. That is the answer that I have to give to the noble Earl. There are, of course, a number of people who, as the noble Earl has said, are not religious conscientious objectors. They may be few, but they are objectors from other points of view, and I have heard various terms applied to them, as have we all. I have heard them called on occasions cowards. The really conscientious objector may be respected, though his is a frame of mind that personally I cannot understand. In regard to the other men, speaking for myself I do not like to call any section of my fellow-countrymen cowards. If there is cowardice, it may be said to be mere moral cowardice of this kind—that they are easily led and persuaded, very often, I think, by those who have ideas very different as to conscientious objections.

I desire to say only one word more. For six months it has been my duty to represent the War Office in this House. I have seen in the newspapers that possibly the Under-Secretary may be Lord Derby. Whether that is well founded or not I am not in a position to say. Sometimes these rumours are erroneous; but should it so happen that Lord Derby takes my place I venture very respectfully to say this, that I think the country and the Army will be very much to be congratulated, and also, if I may say so, that it will be a great advantage to your Lordships' House, because you will have an Under-Secretary to reply to questions you may raise who is fully conversant with every detail of his office. It has been very interesting to me to do this work and to be associated, if only in a very humble way, with that commanding personality, Lord Kitchener, whose relations with me were always so cordial and whose appreciation was always so generous. I should like to say this, as I leave the War Office for the third time All of us at times have no doubt criticised the War Office and been able to prove its various shortcomings, but until I got there the other day, in my humble capacity, I had no idea of the immense amount of work which the War Office has to put through. While I shall be sorry to take my departure, I can only thank your Lordships for the kindness with which you have received me whenever it has been my duty to intrude upon you.


My Lords, we have listened with great interest to the full statement that has been made by the noble Lord on behalf of the Government. I do not know whether the noble Lord regards it as an answer to the speech which was made by the noble Earl. He mentioned a great deal of interesting matter, and we heard the Rules, with which many of us have made ourselves familiar, that govern these questions of administration, the manner in which officers who visit the prisons are directed to carry out their inquiries, the possibility that prisoners have with regard to complaints, and a great many other subjects, including the important indications that the noble Lord gave at the conclusion of his speech about War Office administration generally. But I looked in vain for any answer to the specific points that were brought forward in what I think the whole House must feel to be a reasonable and temperate manner by the noble Earl who introduced this subject.

I was surprised, in the first place, that whereas Lord Russell had given notice of a particular case, with the name of the man about whom the complaint had arisen and about whom he desired to ask questions, the noble Lord, in reply, could only answer that he really did not know about a second Court-Martial, and that he thought such and such other things had happened. But these were exactly the points to which, as the Notice on the Paper definitely stated, attention was going to be directed. Then there were the incidents, of which I have no personal knowledge, which the noble Earl brought forward. What we all, I imagine, wanted to know was not whether these particular things had necessarily happened exactly as they were described, or not so much, but whether there is an arrangement now in force which will render the recurrence of that kind of thing impossible. About that we did not get the slightest hint in the speech of the noble Lord. The other important point, about which all of us have been eager ever since we heard the Prime Minister's statement, was, Are the provisions which the Prime Minister indicated in his statement retrospective or are they not? Do they refer only to cases which are now arising, or are men who are now being subjected—if these stories are true—to treatment of the kind described, in any different position from what they were in before as regards the investigation of the subject or the transference of the men to other authority? Those are the points upon which we have been hoping for an answer, but at present, as far as I can see, we have had no explanation whatever. The rules which exist with regard to the visiting of prisons, the inspection of what has taken place, and many more things, are exceedingly interesting, but they do not bear on the particular points raised in the noble Earl's speech, and, what is most important of all, in the statement by the Prime Minister of what is to be the course of action in the future.

I think we want to get into a non-technical and a larger air about this matter. Time after time when this question has been brought up we have been told of perfectly admirable regulations which are so technical in terms that it requires an expert to understand what they mean, but we have failed to get at the plain facts whether or no mischief is taking place and whether that mischief is now being remedied, whether the new system will differ in any large respects from the old, and whether the operation of the new system will be retrospective as well as affecting men who may now come under it. I do not think it is unreasonable that the House should want to know those things; because, however remote we may be from the slightest sympathy in our hearts with the action that is being taken by men who raise these objections in a perfectly illogical and often perfectly unreasonable manner, we do want to know that things are not happening which are calculated to spread distrust in Army administration, and are especially likely when, as is certainly the case, they are exaggerated, to do harm in the country. About that I looked in vain for any answer in the reply which has just been given to us. All that, we were told was—quoting, I gathered, from a document which we have not seen—that the action of a particular officer, Lieut. Colonel Brooke, had not been illegal, and that he had not exceeded his powers. Whether that means that the statements made respecting him by the prisoners are untrue, or whether, if they are true, those are within the powers of an officer placed in that position, I do not know. That is what we want to know. I do think that the interest in this subject outside in very many circles warrants us in pressing for a fuller and more explicit general statement as to what has happened, the bearing which the new rules will have upon the past, and what is likely to be the operation of these things in the days that lie ahead. I confess I have looked in vain for that in the answer to which we have listened, and I venture to hope that we may have some further word about it.


My Lords, after the speech of the most rev. Primate I am bound to say I think we ought to take into consideration the answer which has been given to-day in the House of Commons by the Under-Secretary of State. He stated that for the future all conscientious objectors will be tried by District Court-Martial; they will not be punished by non-commissioned officers, but will be tried by a tribunal the impartiality of which I and all of us who have served in the Army know perfectly well is certain. The evidence will always be taken upon oath. Moreover, no sentence can be passed by a District Court-Martial and put into execution unless it is confirmed by the General Officer Commanding the district. That removes all doubts about violence or ill-treatment. I am sorry to say I cannot accept, without hearing the evidence, the charges which the noble Earl has made. Only the other day an immense number of cases were brought forward which were said to have happened in the Army abroad. When I challenged that, Lord Derby said, "Not a single conscientious objector has been sent abroad," so that every one of those cases must have been based on falsehood. I do not know where the noble Earl gets all this evidence from, but every one of us acquainted with the Army knows that these cases get about rapidly and grow as they go on. I am sure the most rev. Primate will be satisfied with the statement made by the Under-Secretary that any refusal to obey an order will not be tried on the spot but will be submitted to a perfectly impartial tribunal, a Court-Martial, and that before the sentence is carried into effect it must be sanctioned by the General Officer Commanding the district.


My Lords, the interesting statement has been made to us that something which has happened in the House of Commons has a bearing on this question. I do not know what the statement is, and I am not very much concerned what it is. I venture to suggest that it has no bearing whatever on the subject-matter before us this afternoon. There have been most serious allegations made as to a system of brutality. I do not express any opinion one way or the other as to whether they are true or not, but the cases have been cited. Indeed, in the Motion as it appears on the Paper there is one case set forward as to which, as the most rev. Primate said, the official spokesman of the Government did not vouchsafe any reply.

I need scarcely say that I have no sympathy with conscientious objectors, but I have some concern for the reputation of the Army; and we are informed that it is damaging its reputation or its reputation is being damaged by the isolated action of individuals in carrying on a system of ill-treatment. We are entitled to ask for some reply to these very serious allegations. My noble friend Lord Sandhurst did not attempt to give a reply. He gave us an interesting dissertation on all sorts of things quite remote from the questions at issue. He cited rules and regulations that govern the discipline of the Army, and I suppose he was assuming all the time—at least one would suppose so—that these rules and regulations were always rigidly adhered to, and that therefore nothing of the kind that has been recited by the noble Earl behind me could have happened. That is not good enough for us. We, after all, have our wits and intelligence, and we expect to have proper replies to questions of supreme importance of this kind.

Since the House of Commons has been referred to, I venture to think that if a member of that House had raised a question of importance and there had been an attempt on the part of a Minister to fob him off with the sort of reply that has been given here to-day, it would not have been tolerated for a moment. I think that when questions of this sort are asked, setting forth the charge, and when supplemented by most astounding statements such as were made by the noble Earl—they may be false utterly, or they may be true—we are entitled to some answer, and I suggest that we should have that answer before this debate closes. I have no personal interest whatever in the matter, but I cannot sit here when charges of this kind are made and consent to their being disposed of in the way in which my noble friend has attempted to dispose of them.


My Lords, it is clear, I think, that there are two entirely separate questions under discussion this afternoon—the one the allegations of particular and illegal ill-treatment of individuals by individuals; the other the larger and wider question, more specifically alluded to by the most rev. Primate, of the method of trial of conscientious objectors and the form of punishment to which they are legally committed. Those two questions, although of course related to each other, are in effect distinct; and I think that my noble friend who spoke last was not quite fair to my noble friend Lord Sandhurst in complaining that neither of these questions had been fully dealt with by him. So far as the case of Mr. Norman is concerned, my noble friend replied upon that, although I gather that his reply was not regarded as sufficiently full. On the other hand, all the circumstances of the case of Mr. Norman have been read by most of your Lordships in the public Press, his trial having taken place and having been publicly reported; and supposing that any further information of his particular case is obtainable, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Sandhurst will do his best to obtain it from the War Office.

As regards the other cases of brutal and illegal treatment which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Russell, which I am sure affected those who heard them with a sense of profound regret that such things should be even possible, they are not specifically mentioned in the terms of the noble Earl's Question on the Paper, and I gather that my noble friend Lord Sandhurst was not supplied with information regarding them—I mean the specific statements, fortified by names and places, which the noble Earl made of physical assaults by a particular non-commissioned officer upon several people who were, or at any rate claimed to be, conscientious objectors. It is evident that anything of that kind, assuming it to have taken place, would be altogether repudiated by every officer in the Army, and not least, of course, by the Army Council. But I do not understand that these charges are admitted by the War Office as being well-founded, and I think that the form of reply which my noble friend made was not entirely understood by the noble Lords who followed. He alluded to the system of frequent visits by officers from outside whose duty it is to report to the General in command. Their duty is comparable to that of visiting justices, of whose functions most of your Lordships are doubtless aware, and my noble friend's assumption, I take it, was that supposing these violent assaults to have been committed upon the person of certain conscientious objectors, it is inconceivable that complaints would not have been lodged by those who suffered with the officers who must have visited these detention barracks in the course of a few days after the cases were alleged to have occurred; and he, I have no doubt, would argue that the complaints were either not well-founded and could not be supported by evidence, or, if they were, that the guilty party would receive a severe punishment in respect of them. In the absence of specific knowledge I do not see how my noble friend could have said more.

Then there is the larger and wider question as to which the most rev. Primate thought that a full reply had not been given—the question of the form of trial and of punishment which conscientious objectors receive, and whether it could be shown that the pledges originally given in this House by the late Secretary of State for War, and repeated in another place by the Prime Minister, are indeed being carried out. I understand that the point is whether, as a matter of fact, conscientious objectors who can be shown to be such are tried by Court-Martial, and whether they, on conviction, assuming them to be convicted, are then civilly punished. As I understand it, in all cases where a conscientious objector has preferred or agreed to be tried by a Court-Martial—that is to say, since the pledge was given—he has been so tried, and on conviction has been handed over to the civil authority; but in cases where he has not, so to speak, lent himself to that form of trial, he has been tried by the military authority and sentenced to confinement in detention barracks; that is to say, to a military punishment instead of the civil punishment which it was generally agreed he ought to receive. As I understand, arrangements will now be made whereby in every case the conscientious objector will receive a trial by Court-Martial, and, if convicted, will be handed over to the civil authority.


Including cases before the issue of the Army Order?


So I understand; but I speak there without direct knowledge. It is true that the demand, which I think was originally made by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Parmoor) and was supported by some other noble Lords in this House, that the whole process of trial should be civil, cannot be met—and for this reason, that you would have to devise an entirely new civil offence by Statute before you could convict anybody, the offence of desertion or of refusing to obey orders being a purely military offence; and although it may be argued with great plausibility that the offence is really against the nation, against society and not against the Army, yet without going through a somewhat elaborate process of legislation that particular change of method could not be adopted.

But the truer importance, I think, ought to be attached to the method of punishment than to the method of trial; and in the case of these—I will venture to call them unfortunate people, because in some respects I think they are more subjects for pity than for anything else; they are in almost every case people whom it is impossible to regard as anything but bad citizens, who prefer the satisfaction of their individual prejudice to what is almost universally agreed by the society of which they are members to be their duty as citizens—I trust the event will show that the form of punishment; to be inflicted upon them, which I venture to think ought not to be a light one—that that punishment, even if it cannot be civilly imposed, yet at any rate should be carried out by the civil power and not under the pretence, because it would be nothing but a pretence, of treating them as soldiers when they are not soldiers, will not be soldiers, and, I fear, are not worthy to be soldiers.


My Lords, I should like to say that in my opinion—and I have studied this question with some care—what has been said by Lord Sandhurst and by the noble Marquess is most satisfactory as regards the future treatment of the conscientious objector, if I rightly understand the proposition. I agree that it does not depend so much on the method of trial, although I should have preferred a civil trial. The crucial point is that the punishment should be undergone only in a civil prison. That was the purport of the Army Order which was passed after the late Earl Kitchener made his statement in this House; and if that were applied, ad I think it ought to be, retrospectively to all conscientious objectors, I believe that in substance the complaint they are now making would be satisfactorily met. It is too difficult a topic to assume that you can meet every individual case. The same information which was supplied to the noble Earl opposite was supplied to me—namely, as regards what he called the brutality of treatment in these different cases; and I have in my pocket at the present time cases that I could hardly venture to deal with in public having regard to the conditions. I do not believe that any regulations such as the noble Lord has referred to would, without a change to civil imprisonment, affect the question satisfactorily. It is the human nature of the bully coming out when there is an opportunity. But once put these men into civil prisons, and I think all legitimate objections will be met; and if that is done retrospectively I hope we shall have an end to what appears to me to have been a scandal.


My Lords, I think I can clear up the point put forward by the noble and learned Lord. If under Army Order X, with which he is well acquainted, a conscientious objector is sentenced, he will go to a civil prison. Then the noble and learned Lord asked what about the men who are serving a period of imprisonment in a detention barrack. Speaking subject to correction, what I think will happen is this. If a man who is in a detention barrack misbehaves, instead of being tried by the commandant and subjected to this, that, or the other punishment, he will be tried by a District Court-Martial, which will have the result of sending him to a civil prison. Detention in a barrack is understood to be a less severe sentence than imprisonment. Therefore, of course, you cannot put a man back, without some process such as this, from the less severe punishment of detention to the more severe punishment of imprisonment.


Apart from technical difficulties, which I think might be easily got over, if you apply the principle of the Army Order retrospectively you deal with the whole question.

On Question, That in the opinion of this House it is undesirable to subject military prisoners to punishments not authorised by law—

A Division was challenged and the Bar cleared, but there being no Tellers for the "Not-contents" the said Resolution agreed to.