HL Deb 18 July 1916 vol 22 cc763-5

EARL RUSSELL had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they are now able to state whether the method of dealing with conscientious objectors indicated by the Prime Minister in his statement to the House of Commons on the 29th June 1916 is intended to have the effect of putting into civil custody military conscientious objectors sentenced prior to the issue of Army Order X of 25th May, 1916; and whether they can now inform the House what has been the result of the second Court-Martial on C. H. Norman, where he is now detained, and in what custody.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, when I raised a discussion on this subject a fortnight ago your Lordships will remember that there were two matters left over which the spokesmen of His Majesty's Government were not at the time able to answer. I put this Question down for last Tuesday, but at the request of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War—and I hope he will allow me to congratulate him on his position and the House on having a direct representative of the War Office to deal with these and other kindred matters—I put off the Question until to-day. The most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was fortunate enough to obtain an answer from the noble Earl rather earlier [on July 13] on the first branch of the Question, and I think I need only ask him to be so good as to clear up something about which I am not perfectly clear. In the reply which he made to the most rev. Primate, the noble Earl said that the conscientious objectors at the present moment undergoing detention—who were sentenced before Army Order X was issued—were divided into two classes: those who behaved well when in prison, and those who behaved badly by refusing to obey orders. Those who behaved badly were to have a Court-Martial and the benefit of the Prime Minister's statement, and the noble Earl said it was the intention of the War Office that those who behaved properly should not be treated worse than those who behaved badly. I did not quite understand whether they were to be put in as good a position, and whether they were to be placed in civil custody. If that is the intention, perhaps the noble Earl will make it clear. With regard to the last part of my Question, I want merely to know what was the reason for the second Court-Martial on Norman, what the result was, where he is now detained, and whether he is in civil custody.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl in the first place for deferring this Question, and in the second place for his kind words concerning myself. With regard to the part of the answer previously given about which he is not clear, I would point out that detention is not a civil punishment. When men are under detention they are still under military discipline; but it is the intention that those men who are under detention and are behaving properly shall be put in exactly the same position as those who have behaved badly, in that their cases will be inquired into by the Central Appeal Tribunal.


With the result that they will go into civil custody if they are found to be conscientious objectors?


If they are found to be conscientious objectors they will go into civil custody, and will come under the scheme by which national work is found for them. With regard to the latter part of the Question, C. H. Norman was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment with hard labour by the second Court-Martial. On July 5 he was removed from Wandsworth Detention Barracks to Wormwood Scrubbs, where to the best of my belief he, now is. He is in civil custody, and his case will therefore come before the Central Appeal Tribunal.