§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I have to ask you to give a Second Reading to this Bill. Your Lordships know that it is my duty, on behalf of my noble friend the Secretary of State for War, from time to time to give such information appertaining to his Department as your Lordships require. That is always a pleasure, especially if I can think that the information which I give is of a satisfactory character. But I confess that coming from my tranquil office [that of Lord Chamberlain] with the light and pleasant duties that it entails, it is a very great change for me to find myself placed in charge of a Bill of this importance and of so far-reaching a character. Indeed, I think I should have had nervousness in accepting the injunction of my noble friend beside me to take charge of this Bill had not many years in your Lordships' House shown me the patience and generosity which you extend to an official in my position.
The object of this Bill is to continue and amend the Military Service Act of this year, which is described throughout this Bill as "the principal Act." It creates, I need hardly say, a vast change in our national life. It changes by order, as it were, our civilian population into a military population; at any rate, that is my view. It is directly, of course, due to the war. I see on the Benches opposite the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, who made an interesting speech the other day on the subject of compulsory service. The noble Viscount has been a lifelong supporter of National Service on those lines. I have no doubt that there are many noble Lords opposite and also behind me who hold the same opinion; but my view, owing to my political upbringing, has generally been opposed to that line of action. Strange though it may appear, but so it is, some of my friends have now and then inquired of me what line I should pursue if a Bill for compulsory service was brought before Parliament by the Government of the day. My answer was as simple as I think it was obvious. It was that the circumstances, owing to the war, are entirely changed; and that if the Prime Minister of a great Party, whichever it might be, came to Parliament and on the responsibility of the Government suggested 1072 such a course, I could not conceive that it would be the duty of anybody but, waiving aside his previous convictions, to give the proposal his whole hearted and unstinted support. During the last twenty months many illusions have been shattered. Our preconceived views in many directions have gone by the board; and any notions that we may have entertained of the chivalry of our principal opponents have shared the same fate. Our own soldiers and sailors retain their sense of chivalry, but, my Lords, they and the nation are none the less but more than ever determined to carry this struggle to the one and only issue; and this is the root and basis of this Bill.
My noble friend behind me, in the Secret Session, gave your Lordships a large number of facts and figures. Naturally, I do not propose to take you through those facts and figures again; but perhaps I may touch upon the salient features which have led us to the position in which we are today. Your Lordships will remember that when the Secretary of State for War asked for his first 100,000 men, he obtained them in three weeks. That was after the first 500,000 had been voted. On September 2, 1914, the second 500,000 were voted, and recruiting went on at such a rate that the Secretary of State obtained 33,000 men in one day. It was a splendid response to my noble friend's appeal. The second 1,000,000 was asked for in Parliament by the Prime Minister in November, 1914, and of those the Secretary of State in May asked the country for 300,000. Then in August of last year the Registration Act became operative. Your Lordships will remember that the object of that Act was to show the total of the manhood and the womanhood of the country within certain ages, their occupations and domicile, and steps were taken to issue what was known as the pink form, the object of which was to place at the disposal of the recruiting authorities these particulars as regards every man between the ages of 18 and 41. But about a month after this there was observed by the recruiting authorities to be a certain falling off in the number of recruits, which to them was very disquieting.
Then the noble Earl, Lord Derby, came to the assistance of the country. Lord Derby had been, as he has told us on many occasions, an emphatic supporter of National Service; but he laboured wholeheartedly, braving much criticism latterly, 1073 to get the very last ounce, if I may use the term, out of the voluntary system. The necessary demands for men were forumlated by the Labour Recruitment Committee, who said that about 30,000 recruits per week was the number required; and I might mention here the great part which many of the Labour leaders have played throughout this business. Your Lordships will remember the Group System instituted by Lord Derby—separate groups, according to ages, for single men and married men. Then, however, the numbers of unmarried men coming forward disappointed. It was determined that more than a negligible quantity were wanting, and it was found necessary to resort to legislation to secure that all unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41 should be under the obligation to serve.
Owing to one cause or another, the number of unmarried men required had not been realised. An enormous number of married men, however, had come patriotically forward under the Derby Scheme and attested, but it was soon perceived from the ordinary channels of information that there was a general feeling of unfairness amongst many of these married men. Complaints were made that they had not been properly treated; indeed, that some had been tricked into attestation. Many married men who had come forward patriotically said there were others in the same position who were quite as well able and at liberty to come forward but had not done so, and it was asked why one man should be taken and another left. Indeed, there was a great deal said about the noble Earl's pledge. The question of the pledge as well worn. I do not propose to labour it or further to refer to it, except to say that we all know the noble Earl, and we can be confident that if he makes pledges they are not to be broken, or even, if I may use the term, bent. This was the state of affairs when the Government brought in their Bill in another place which was withdrawn. I hope that in the rapid sketch which I have given the chronological sequence of events is correct.
I venture to think, my Lords, that it was shown by the various and many channels of information—not only in that section of the Press which we have been accustomed to see strongly associated with the compulsory system of service but in other directions—that in regard to universal service public opinion had very materially 1074 developed and hardened, and further, as occurs in other matters when ultimately a question which may have been perhaps bristling with difficulties is after the fullest consideration firmly gripped and tackled and a direct line given, that the objections had disappeared. It is observable that perspective which, under a piecemeal plan, might have got awry, rights itself as the view of the whole principle commends itself to the population; and this, to my mind, has proved to be the case with the proposals under discussion if we may judge by the Divisions which took place on the Second Reading of this Bill in the other House.
In regard to the general question of compulsion, there is an old saying that "there is nothing new under the sun." I may be misled, but I apprehend that this simple phrase applies to the matter under discussion, because through long centuries, as your Lordships know very well, there have been by various Statutes systems of compulsion. Indeed, I believe that some of those enactments are still on the Statute Book. In some of those cases the period of compulsion has not been between 18 and 41 years of age, but between 17 and 55; indeed, I think that in the reign of Henry II. there was a Statute which enacted that every man should from the age of 17 join in sabbatical practice for archery. That might be said only to occur in cases where we were protecting our shores. Well, we are engaged now in preparing and perfecting a system of protection of our shores. More than that, our fighting takes us to a frontier which is of the utmost importance; and at the same time we are engaged in a struggle for great principles and for freedom, in which I submit every one should take his part. I consider very respectfully that it is hardly useful now to discuss whether, if this measure had been brought in months ago, it would have met with the same general support which I venture to think it receives at present. Some, no doubt, hold that it would have obtained that support. On the other hand, some—and I associate myself with them—think that the Government managed to choose the psychological moment which secured the greatest possible amount of support and at the same time maintained the national unity.
If your Lordships will bear with me, I propose to take you through a few of the 1075 more salient clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 is an extension of Section 1 of the principal Act. That section brought within its operation unmarried men then between the ages of 18 and 41, subject, of course, to exemptions which still hold good except where expressly modified by the Bill. This Bill provides that all men, married and single, who have attained the age of 18 and have not attained the age of 41 years, shall, subject to exceptions, within thirty days of the passing of the Bill be deemed enlisted and transferred to the Reserve. There is liberty, of course, for them within the thirty days to apply for exemption; and from the Reserve they will by degrees be drafted off to the units for which they are intended. And men who do not wish to be recruited as conscripts can, during those thirty days, offer themselves for enlistment.
Clause 2 refers to men now serving whose time would otherwise expire. The Army Act provides for extension of one year for men who have served for twelve years. This clause provides, in the cases of those men, an extension not exceeding the duration of the war, and therefore enables them to be retained until the end of the war. But the man who has served twelve years and has reached the age of 41 is under the old Act, and his services will not be extended beyond the one year. I may tell your Lordships that bounties will be given to men whose time has expired since the outbreak of the war. Bounties to men, the depôts of whose units are in the United Kingdom, who, having become time-expired since the outbreak of the war, are now recalled to or retained in the Service, will be given on the following general lines: Men of short service—e.g., Territorials, Special Reserve, £15; men of thirteen years' service or upwards, £20; men of twenty-two years' service or upwards, £25. I trust the House will consider that these bounties are on a fairly generous scale. As regards men retained in the Service, the bounty may be drawn as to one-third in cash, the balance being paid, with interest at the rate of 5 per cent., on the man's death or discharge from the Service.
Clause 3 (1) refers to men already discharged before the war. Very many of these men have rejoined, and they shall be restored to the rank held before the termination of military service; and they have, if they wish to exercise it, the right 1076 of appeal to Tribunals like any other recruit. By the Schedule of the principal Act they were excepted. The second subsection of this clause has to do with medical examinations, about which we have heard a great deal. It enables the Army Council to review medical certificates. By the First Schedule men who had offered for enlistment and been rejected after August 15, 1915, were exempt, but we have heard a great deal of the unsatisfactory nature and the inadequacy of the medical examination. Owing to this knowledge and also to the fact that there are now instituted variety grades in which men can be usefully employed in the Army according to their grade of fitness, the Army Council need the power to review the certificates and medically to re-examine these men rejected subsequent to August 15 last year. I may add—this is for the convenience of these men, because it is obviously necessary that they should know where they are—that facilities will be given in all areas for men who wish to know how they stand to be medically examined by the medical board of the area in which they reside, provided reasonable notice is given and arrangements are made with the recruiting officer for an appointment by each individual man.
Clause 4 is a machinery clause, the purpose of which is to reduce re-applications and obstruction in regard to Tribunals and to produce finality in results. By the principal Act, a man seeking exemption could go to the Local Tribunal, then to the Appeal Tribunal, and then, if he wanted further to vary the decision, he could go back to the Local Tribunal and back again to the Appeal Tribunal. In some cases this is being done The object of this clause is, if I may use the term, to short circuit these proceedings. I will give your Lordships an example of what I mean. A man gets an exemption from, say, the Westminster Local Tribunal for two months. He appeals to the London Tribunal, who reduce the exemption to one month. He then returns forthwith to the Local Tribunal for a further variation, then to the Appeal Tribunal again, and so on. It is proposed by this clause that the man shall not go back to the Local Tribunal, but shall go direct to the Appeal Tribunal and make out his case again if he wishes to have the decision varied. Then we provide a convenience for some of these men. At present, having gone to an Appeal Tribunal, a man, if he requires further consideration, must 1077 to back to the same Tribunal which gave the former decision. It is now provided in this Bill that, after he has been to the Local Tribunal, say, in Northumberland, and has been to the County Appeal Tribunal in Northumberland, and then migrates to Kent or Hertfordshire, the man can apply to have his case heard by the Appeal Tribunal of the county in which he happens to be resident. Arrangements to carry this out will be made by Regulation under Order in Council.
I do not think it necessary to go through all the clauses of the Bill at this stage. Clause 11 contains a useful power. It practically enables a man who is now in military employment, who has learned drill, musketry, and discipline, to be released so as to take up civil life if it is considered that he can be more usefully employed as an expert workman than in the ranks; but he would, of course, be available as a trained soldier in case of emergency. Your Lordships will probably flank that I have gone fully enough into tie individual clauses of the Bill at this stage, and I do not think I should be justified in taxing your patience in that respect at greater length.
Last night the noble Lord on the Cross Bench (Lord Courtney) asked me whether I could at this stage give the House some indication of Government Amendments, and I promised that I would endeavour to meet his wishes. There are only two Government Amendments, beyond verbal and drafting ones. One of those is to make quite clear what we thought was clear in the principal Act. The intention of that measure was explained by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne in the Committee stage, when he said that it was designed that a Tribunal could give total exemption to a conscientious objector. A great many people thought that this was already clear, but I understand that some legal authorities have raised a doubt, and therefore an Amendment will be inserted to place the matter beyond doubt. The other Amendment is as regards doctors, and is to facilitate the task of the Army Council in getting the large numbers of doctors with the least inconvenience to the needs of the civil population. The main idea is to take advantage of a Committee sitting at the War Office known as the Central War Medical Committee, which is in touch with local committees in every county. Appeals for exemption other than those of conscientious objectors will be treated by this 1078 Committee in conjunction with those of the counties. That is a sketch of the two Government Amendments other than the verbal and drafting ones.
As I foresaw when I began my speech, your Lordships have been extremely kind and patient with me and I have only a few sentences further to say. One is a personal reminiscence and the other a reminiscence well within the recollection of your Lordships' House. The personal reminiscence which I venture to put before you is this. My father was a soldier, and served his country for forty years out of a short life of fifty-six. I had the great advantage of taking a trip with him in 1873 over some of the battle fields of France after the Franco-Prussian War, and he had been endeavouring to explain to me the system by which France and Germany filled their armies, and—I think it was at Gravelotte—he stopped in his walk (I remember it as if it had been yesterday) and said, "If you live long enough it is just possible, in view of these great Continental Armies, that you may one day see compulsory service at home." I venture with great respect to say that that day has now come.
The other reminiscence refers to a short speech, welcomed from all parts of the House, by a noble and gallant friend of us all, General the Earl of Cavan. It was a very short and very soldierlike speech, a very manly and modest speech—epithets which apply notably to two points in my noble friend's character. You will recollect that he said, in effect, "The spirit of the troops is splendid; but they want to be assured that all capable men at home will take their part, as we are trying to do out at the Front." I venture respectfully to say that the final stage of this Bill will be the message that you will send to those gallant men. In thanking your Lordships once more for the attention with which you have listened to my remarks, I have only to add that I believe that your passing this Bill will be one more proof to those gallant Frenchmen at Verdun and to all our Allies of the constancy and the determination of our countrymen in the war. The Bill having passed the House of Commons by the large majorities that we remember, which shows to my mind that it has at its back the support of the vast majority of our countrymen, it is with complete confidence that I ask your Lordships to read it a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Sandhurst.)1079
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who has just sat down will allow me very respectfully to congratulate him upon the way in which he has introduced this Bill to your Lordships' notice. He told us that it was the first time he had introduced a Bill of great importance. I am certain that none of us who listened to him would have guessed that such was the case. There was a clearness in his explanation and a carefulness in his method of dealing with the subject which one would have imagined only came from long practice. I admire not only, if I may say so, the noble Lord's manner, but the great serenity with which he dealt with the subject, the great confidence which he expressed that there could not be two opinions anywhere that this Bill is required. My mind went back to a short time before Easter, when I hardly think that every one would have endorsed with quite so much confidence the observation of the noble Lord. I remember a speech of my noble friend Lord Milner, which was listened to in gloomy silence by the Front Bench opposite. We remember what took place—the adjournments and further adjournments, the rumoured splits in the Cabinet, the negotiations, the proceedings of the President of the Board of Education, the national disasters which were adumbrated, the awful things which were going to occur if my noble friend pressed his Motion. There was an abortive attempt to produce a compromise. I think it saw the light for about two hours, and then disappeared. Then it was found, as my noble friend said just now, that if the country was properly approached everybody would be agreed about this Bill. There was no public commotion concerning it. The railings of Hyde Park were not torn down. There was no adverse vote by a Trade Union Congress or even by a Trade Council anywhere. What was the reason? It was this, that for the first time in their career the Government took the people into their confidence. They told them the facts, just a little truth; a touch of truth was all that was required, just faith in the people, faith as a grain of mustard seed, and it appeared there were no difficulties. All the anxious days and sleepless nights which my right hon. and noble friends spent were all spent in vain; and we have my noble friend who has just sat down telling us that all that was required was firmness and a direct lead, and the country followed suit immediately. We do not want to press these matters now. 1080 We are very glad that the Government have arrived at the conclusion at which my noble friend has arrived—that the vast mass of the people of this country are unanimous in supporting the principle of this Bill.
I do not propose, further than this, to discuss the principle of the Bill. It is settled; it is res judicata. The general principle of the Bill—namely, that universal service for all who have not a reasonable excuse and who are within the military ages should be compulsory—is agreed in view of the gravity of the war in which we are engaged. I shall follow the example of the noble Lord opposite and discuss one or two of the details of the Bill. We desire to co-operate with the Government in passing the Bill through as quickly as possible. Therefore the time at our disposal for the remaining stages is likely to be brief. Consequently your Lordships Will excuse me if I refer, even on the Second Reading, to one or two matters of detail. The great thing is to make the Bill as fair and equitable as possible. The noble Lord who has just sat down told us that arrangements had been made under which medical examination should be readily accessible to all recruits under the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Then I misunderstood the noble Lord. But let me say a word about the medical examinations. I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of multiplying the stations at which medical examinations can take place. It has reached me from my own county that considerable hardship arises because recruits have to travel, not to any town in the county, but as far off as Bedford in order to go through the examination. If the man is accepted, that does not matter; but if he is rejected the fact that he has had to travel to Bedford would seem to involve considerable loss of time for him and therefore a certain amount of hardship. I suggest that the Government should consider the possibility of multiplying the examination stations, so that each of the principal towns in Hertfordshire, for example, should have a visit from the necessary medical board or medical officer at suitable times.
May I say, in passing, that I was rather sorry that my noble friend, at a particular moment in his speech, broke off the very clear exposition which he was giving of the 1081 clauses and said he thought it unnecessary to go through them all. There are one or two clauses which certainly interest us very much, in particular Clause 6. Clause 6 has undergone considerable change since the Bill was first submitted to the House of Commons. I must say I think that if we are going to have this Bill at all, it ought to be equitable and effective. If a man receives a certain postponement of his calling up to the Colours, that postponement should be a reasonable and not a long one. Consequently I was very glad that when this Bill was introduced into the House of Commons the period of grace which follows postponement was reduced by the Government from two months, as it stands in the principal Act, to two weeks as it stood in this Bill as it was put upon the Table of the House of Commons. That appeared to be a thoroughly sound and wholesome change in the law. Why should a man have two months? If the Tribunal think he ought to have a long period, let them say so. Why should he have two months' grace as of right after any postponement which the Tribunal might give him? But that clause has not remained in its pristine condition. It has undergone a change, and we now find that very large sections of recruits have had the two months' grace restored to them. I submit that this is making the Bill ineffective, and it is also making it inequitable. You have no right to pick out a certain class of recruits and say that they are to have this period of grace. Let the House understand that those are cases where, ex hypothesi, the men are held to be recruitable; they are no longer required for work of national importance or for work under the Munitions Act. If they are recruitable, they ought to be in the same position as any other subject of the King; they ought not to be in a privileged position. For my part I see no reason whatever for the change; it is one of great importance affecting a large number of recruits, and was inserted when the Bill was passing through the House of Commons. I should be glad if the Government could tell us, before the proceedings close this evening, what the defence is for this change.
One other point of a similar kind. It does not appear actually on the face of the Bill, but in the proceedings in the House of Commons a certain pledge was given by the President of the Local Government Board in respect of persons termed to be the heads of businesses. An Amendment 1082 was moved in another place that heads of businesses under certain conditions should be exempt, and one of those vague pledges to which all Ministers are prone was given across the floor of the House. It was that what was not to be put into the Bill might subsequently be done by Regulation. In the first place, what does this pledge amount to? Are the Government pledged to give exemption, by Regulation, to all heads of businesses who come under the limitation suggested? If so, they may be making a serious infringement in their Bill. They may be removing from the purview of the Bill, and therefore from service in the Army, a very large class of men. In the second place, I should like to ask whether the President of the Local Government Board has power to make such Regulations. I do not believe he has. He certainly has power under the principal Act to make Regulations and to give instructions in order to obtain uniformity in administration, but I do not think he has any right to give instructions which I modify substantially the effect of the provisions of the Statute, and I shall be glad to have some explanation from the Government on that point.
I had hoped that there would be some proposal foreshadowed by the noble Lord for an Amendment dealing with the cases where County Appeal Tribunals, if I may use such a phrase, unreasonably refuse to grant leave of appeal to the Central Tribunal. I speak on this subject with great diffidence because, being a member of the Central Tribunal, it may seem as if I were trying to exalt the office which I most inadequately hold. But I ventuie to put this before your Lordships as a very important matter. Unless all accounts which reach us are untrue, there have been a considerable number of cases in which the power of the Appeal Tribunal to refuse leave for further appeal has been unreasonably and almost vexatiously exercised. I notice that my noble friend Lord Bryce assents to that. I believe it to have had a very serious effect in the case of a great many agricultural districts, in which men have been taken unreasonably from the farms, and any further appeal to put the matter right has been refused. Occasionally the same difficulty has arisen in the case of that much-discussed person the conscientious objector. I do not wish to discuss this afternoon the general case of the conscientious objector, whether he ought to be recognised or not. That is 1083 already settled in the existing Act. But assuming that provisions for his relief are to be admitted, it is evident that they must be equitably administered. Anything in the nature of unfairness even to so low a person, if I may use such a phrase, as a conscientious objector, must be avoided; and if it be true, as I am told it is, that certain Appeal Tribunals have refused to allow the conscientious objector a further leave to appeal when they themselves are dealing out to him the scantiest justice, then I say an Amendment in the Bill before your Lordships is absolutely required. There ought to be some means by which a vexatious or unreasonable refusal of an Appeal Tribunal to allow an appeal to the Central Tribunal could be set right.
The last point I should like to suggest to your Lordships is this, and I come to it because it arises out of the case of the conscientious objector which I have just mentioned. Your Lordships may be perhaps surprised that I dwell so long on the conscientious objector, but the greater part of the work of the Central Tribunal consists in dealing with these persons, and therefore the matter is constantly before us. Now in the case where the conscientious objector is not given relief—I am assuming that he is not entitled to relief, that his conscientious objection is not sufficiently deep and well-founded to justify his being accorded relief—or in the case where a mistake has been made and although his conscience is really quite sincere yet he has been refused relief, what happens? He is compulsorily recruited into the Army; he is then guilty of a gross crime in the form of insubordination and is brought before a Court Martial and punished. All those things are quite necessary if the man is to be put into the Army. If it is held that the conscientious objection is not sound, or not sufficiently sound, then no doubt if the man disobeys he must be punished. But your Lordships have seen that considerable scandals arise in consequence. There was a debate in this House the other night, initiated by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, which I think made some impression on the House; and there has been a great deal of correspondence in the public Press. I do not suggest that such a man should not be punished, but I do suggest to your Lordships that it would be wise, if possible, to avoid the scandals which have taken place. And in seeking for a remedy it has occurred to me that, after all, the crime which the man has committed is not so much a crime 1084 against the Army as a crime against the community. Your Lordships are aware that in the principal Act this distinction is recognised, and where a question arises as to whether a man ought; or ought not to have joined, the issue has to be tried by a civil Court—it is held, that is to say, that it is not a matter for a military tribunal but a matter for a civil tribunal to decide. I cannot go quite so far as that in the case of a man who is punished for insubordination, for an offence arising out of a conscientious objection or an alleged conscientious objection, because the man is already in the Army and must be, I presume, tried by Court-Martial. But I suggest that when it comes to punishing him he should not be incarcerated in a military but in a civil prison. That may appear to be a distinction which does not amount to very much on the face of it, but it does amount to a great deal. I am not saying a word against the administration of military prisons. I have no doubt they are well administered. At any rate, the one with which I am acquainted is well administered. But a military prison is part of the Army. The prisoner, when he is in the military prison, does not escape any of the military incidents which are the very root and cause of his insubordination. He has to be dressed in military clothes; he has to go through military drill, and, if he refuses in the first instance, of course he goes on refusing to the end of the chapter. But if he is transferred to a civil prison he will be punished just as severely as, indeed more severely than, he would be in the military prison, but all those disabilities disappear. He has committed his crime against the community; the community punishes him in the ordinary way in a civil prison, and he becomes amenable to all the punishment that obtains in a civil prison; but he is outside the Army altogether, and there is no scope for those scandals which I think are so deplorable and do so much harm to the Army and the whole system of recruiting. I suggest to the Government that some change should be made in the Bill by which the slight alteration which I have suggested in administration can be brought about.
I apologise for having detained your Lordships so long on these details, for I realise that they are not quite germane to a Second Reading discussion; but I have done so because of the brief opportunity of discussion given before the Bill passes into law. I earnestly hope that the 1085 further discussion of the Bill may be of a perfectly business-like character, and that we may all co-operate in bringing this long-deferred but much required reform into operation as soon as may be.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Marquess that the principle of this Bill may be regarded as res judicata. It has become inevitable in present conditions that we should have a Bill of this character. All I desire to do is, in accordance with what the noble Marquess said just now, to make it equitable and effective with regard to what to my mind is a very important particular—I mean the case of the conscientious objector. The policy of this Bill is that it is neither wise nor just to attempt to force a man to do an act which in truth and sincerity he believes to be opposed to his religious faith, or wrong, or immoral. I am sorry that the term "conscientious objection" has been introduced into the Bill at all. I think it has been used unfairly and for matters of prejudice as regards the persons whom the Bill is intended to protect but whom I do not think it does protect either equitably or effectively at the present time. In order to remove any prejudice—and I think there is a good deal of prejudice on this point—I might, perhaps, read to your Lordships what was said by one who was greatly respected in this House, Lord Roberts, upon this very point; and I read it in order to summarise what I think is a just attitude to take with regard to this difficult question. Lord Roberts said—If you penetrate deep enough into the depths of human nature you will unfailingly reach a stratum which is impervious to discipline or any other influence from outside. The strongest manifestation of this truth lies in what men call conscience—an innate sense of right and wrong which neither reason nor man-made law can affect. It is useless to invoke the authority of the Constitution, to raise fine points of law, or to threaten pains and penalties. Such things matter not one jot when men's consciences are aroused.That is a statement made by a great soldier and inreference to military duties, and I quote it because I think it states quite shortly the essence and reality of the difficulty.
By tradition in this country what is called a conscientious objection has always been regarded as safeguarded. The only compulsion of old days was in the Ballot Acts for the Militia, and in those Acts there was a provision safeguarding the conscientious objector of those days, who was the Quaker, and safeguarding him in a perfectly simple and easy form. Instead of the many difficulties associated with in- 1086 quiries before the Local Tribunals, about which I desire to say a few words in a moment, all that was necessary was that the person seeking immunity should, on the testimony of two reputable householders, as they were called, be certified to have a conscientious objection. That was accepted as a matter of course, and no further inquiry was made. The result was that there was never any of the friction which has arisen as regards conscientious. objectors at the present time; and, as far as I am aware, no difficulty ever arose in the adjustment and application of those Acts.
You may deal with this difficulty in the tolerant way proposed in the present Bill—I admit that I am entirely in favour of the policy of the present Bill in this respect—or you may do what is the quintessence of the military spirit, of what we call Prussianism or Germanism; you may say that the only test the military requirement, and that all ideas of humanity, morality, and religion must be put on one side where that test becomes the paramount one for national conduct. I think that would be a mistake in itself; and if any of your Lordships desire to see a principle of that kind adopted, I would instance the 1912 Conscription Act of France, where all exemptions were taken away except that of physical unfitness, to show that you do not get rid of the difficulty by not giving an opportunity of exemption. That has been found in the French Army during the present war. It is a great mistake to suppose that you get rid of the difficulty by disregarding the conscientious objector and sending him to the Front under the conditions which apply to the conscript armies of the Continent.
What I wish to ask is whether we cannot put the policy which has been adopted on a more equitable and effective basis. That is really the question with which we are concerned at the present moment. First of all, how have the difficulties arisen? I think they have arisen from two causes. In the first place, from the unfortunate tendency of modern legislation to be pushed through without sufficient definite instructions to the persons who have to carry out the intentions of the Legislature. The Local Tribunals have been working admittedly in a very large number of cases without a knowledge of their powers or of the jurisdiction which they are called upon to exercise. That is a very important matter. I noticed what the noble Lord said who introduced the Bill, that it would 1087 be made clear that total exemptions could be given. I think he is quite right when he says that the original Act did allow such exemptions to be given; on the other hand, the Act was so indefinite that I believe practically the mass of the 2,000 Local Tribunals have been exercising their powers under a total misapprehension of what the Legislature intended. At least, they have either done that, or, if they knew what their powers were, they have acted illegally.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I will not enter into a controversy upon that, but I think there are a good many cases. In the second place, I think the Local Tribunals themselves have been unfortunately constituted. I should be the last person to attempt a general indictment against all the Local Tribunals, but they have been constituted in a most haphazard manner and have had given to them one of the most difficult questions which you could possibly place before any body—namely, whether a conscientious objector is sincere and true, or whether the objector is merely making a pretence of his conscience, in which case in my opinion no penalty is too severe for the person who takes an attitude of that kind.
Assuming that the present Local Tribunals are to be maintained—although, as I say, I wish they had been set up on a quite different basis—I think the only question which should be left to them is the question of fact, Yes or No—Is the particular individual a conscientious objector or not? That is quite enough, and it is a very difficult problem for any Tribunal to deal with. Let me assume for the moment that the question is answered in the affirmative and that the man who claims exemption is in truth and in sincerity and reality a man who has an innate sense of right which he maintains against the State requirement. What is the proper thing to do in those circumstances? Why cannot such conscientious objectors be sent to a Central Committee, founded on the basis of what we call the Pelham Committee but with somewhat different powers, in order that they may be dealt with fairly and equitably and all on the same basis? One of the difficulties which undoubtedly causes friction and trouble is the great inequality with which these cases are dealt with by the various Tribunals. If all these men who are held to have conscientious obje- 1088 tions went before one Central Tribunal they could be all dealt with equitably in one way—either they might have total exemption, or they might be dealt with on the basis of what is called non-combatant service, or on the basis of national services which are not even remotely connected with warlike purposes. If you were to do that as regards men who are bona fide conscientious objectors, I think you would take away every possible ground of complaint. I put it to the noble Lord opposite (Lord Sandhurst) whether it is not of great importance, if possible, to take away grounds of complaint in a matter of this kind. When you want national unity in every possible direction, I take a serious view of allowing an irritating sore of this kind to go on; whereas by a proper system you could deal with what is at the present time an immediate and pressing necessity. As to the other alternative, if the Tribunal says that the conscientious objector is nothing but a sham, I believe you would get much better results by his being allowed to have one appeal to a responsible body in whose decisions all people would have confidence and for whose decisions all people would have respect.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Although the noble Earl shakes his head I doubt whether he would disagree with this, that a very large body of opinion in this country, rightly or wrongly, regards the decisions of the Tribunals given on this point as wholly unsatisfactory. Instead of dealing with the question Yes or No, there have been metaphysical discussions from the chairman of the Tribunals as to the meaning of conscience, and sometimes inquiries into complicated and difficult problems connected with religious dogmas. Let us get rid of that once for all. Only the other day I saw the case of a conscientious objector, a Quaker. He had come back from serving with the Quaker ambulance section abroad. There was no doubt that he was a Quaker, and evidence was given as to that. Yet he was cross-examined as to his political opinions. He said "I am not here to be cross-examined on those topics." But the Tribunal pursued questions as to whether he was a Socialist, a Radical, or what his political opinions were, and having thoroughly cross-examined him on that they refused exemption, although on the admitted facts he was a Quaker and entitled to exemption. If the only question before 1089 the Tribunal had been, as it ought to have been, whether he was a conscientious objector or not, they must have answered in the affirmative.
I entirely agree with what the noble Marquess said as regards substituting the civil for the military prison, and I do so not only from the point of view of the conscientious objector but because I think it is unfair in a time of great stress like the present to shunt these difficulties from the civil authorities and place them upon the shoulders of men the whole of whose time ought to be given to great national objects. In the same way, by sending these men to France you only postpone the difficulty. You make the difficulty acute at the wrong moment, and in the wrong place. I think the only object of any man at the present time is to unify and consolidate national influence and national effort in every possible direction, and a great step, in my opinion, would be taken towards getting unity of effort and unity of purpose by making the provision intended to be for the benefit of the conscientious objector one which can be utilised in an equitable and effective manner.
THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, I have for so many years, in this House and out side, advocated the adoption of some system of compulsory military training that I hope your Lordships will not expect any apology from me for intervening in this debate with the object of according a hearty welcome to the Military Service Bill. It is a measure which I have longed for, and one which I believe will place the British Empire for many years outside danger.
It is now twenty-six years since, in 1890—and later in 1891—impressed by the military weakness of the British Empire and firmly convinced that the day would come when we should find ourselves at war with one or more of the great military Powers of Europe, I introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill—which I hoped would be a stage towards such a measure as this—to make military training compulsory in all Government schools. I am still in hopes that such a Bill may become law before I die. In 1899, in this House, I alluded to the immense extent of our land frontiers. I had difficulty in finding that out. I could not get the information by going to the Government Offices, and had to employ a professional to make the calcu- 1090 lation. Our land frontiers amount to some 29,740 miles, the longest of any Power in the world—more than three times as great as the next longest frontier belonging to any civilised Power, namely, that of Russia, which is about 9,550 miles. Our frontiers are conterminous with those of sixteen Sovereign States. It is very difficult to realise that. On the occasion of which I am speaking I said in this House—We have become a great Continental Power. Our military organisation has not kept pace with our necessities—a fact which is more widely recognised every day by experts. It is now almost an established axiom that, strong though our Navy is, we could not hope to terminate a great conflict with a European Power without the employment of military force, and that force at present falls far short of the nation's needs.Then occurred the Boer War, which opened the eyes of many to the military weakness of this country. After that war I again raised a debate in this House on military defence. In that debate (in 1903) I remarked—I wish to urge my countrymen seriously to consider the most important question of national defence. Let them realise that the British Empire is no longer a sea-girt State which can trust for its defence to an all-powerful Navy, but that it now possesses the most extensive land frontiers of any Power in the world. Let them honestly ask themselves whether, under present conditions, Great Britain could reasonably hope to issue victoriously should she unfortunately be at war, say, with two or three of the Great Powers which could bring into the field from 7,000,000 to 11,000,000 trained fighting men as opposed to the 500,000 which, including volunteers, constitute the entire military force of the British Empire.As we all know, those figures are below the mark.
In 1905 I again raised the question, and said that it seemed to me that no individual who had given attention to the subject of the defence of the Empire could arrive at any other conclusion than that it would be impossible, were we at war with a first class Power, to come out successfully with the form of military service which we then had. I continued—We have an ever-increasing Empire with extensive land frontiers, and I am afraid there are many who do not appreciate the extent of these frontiers. For so long in our history were we an island kingdom that we got accustomed to think that we still are more or less an island Empire. But is that the fact? It is anything but the fact. If we look into the matter we find that our Empire has extensive frontiers conterminous with the United States, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, China, Persia, Siam, Mexico, Venezuela, and Guatemala.Our recent experiences have, alas! proved the truth of those words.
1091 After so many years of mental anxiety in regard to the security of our beloved country, it is natural to welcome with a sense of great relief the Bill which His Majesty's Government have to-day presented for your Lordships' acceptance. If this Bill should become law many of us will feel for the first time that the power of the British Empire will be commensurate with its vast responsibilities. We may hope that never again shall panics, frequent panics, as we have had in past years, lead to unrest and to hurried legislation. As long as the sixty or seventy millions of white subjects of the King were exempt from the primary duty of citizenship—namely, the defence of the country which guaranteed their liberty and freedom—so long was it impossible for the State to call upon the 350 millions of coloured subjects of the King to assist in the common defence in a manner commensurate with their numbers. When once equal sacrifice is demanded of all white British subjects it becomes possible for the Empire to utilise to the full its immense resources of men, material, and money. Whereas it was impossible formerly, as long as any white men held back from danger, to say to our gallant and loyal coloured fellow-subjects in the (lay of battle "Go on," now we can confidently cry "Come on," as we set them the example of a universal, willing self-sacrifice.
I need not remind your Lordships how patriotically, eloquently, and unceasingly the late gallant and illustrious Field Marshal, Earl Roberts (who used to sit on the corner of the Front Cross Bench) devoted himself to his work of rousing his fellow-subjects to a sense of national danger, and how he founded the National Service League, with which he incorporated a small organisation called the Lads Drill Association. We must all acknowledge that events have amply justified his action. He told us that our ordeal was at hand. That ordeal came sooner than I think even he expected. We are in the midst of it to-day. We refused to listen to his appeals. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that had we listened this awful war would probably never have overtaken us, or, if it had, it would have found us prepared, and would assuredly have ended in our favour many months ago. We have had to do in twenty months what Germany has been at work on for over twenty years— 1092 with all the waste which unorganised energy always entails. Thousands of lives and millions of money have been squandered, and a huge debt raised which will keep generations of British men and women impoverished for years to come. All this has occurred to avoid what? To enable a few slackers to avoid the performance of the first duty of a citizen—the defence of the State which safeguards his life, his home, his freedom, his liberty, the honour of his womenkind, and the possession of all those things which make life worth living to civilised man.
After all, the force of circumstances had already compelled the Government to swallow half the noxious dose which they so much dreaded. By a recent Act, of which this is an amendment, they have compelled the single men to take up arms in defence of the country; but they exempted the married men. This anomaly is now to be set right. It is quite proper that the single men should be first summoned to the Colours, but the commonest intelligence can see that the great national need is to bring victory to our arms with the least possible delay, and that the larger the numbers of men who can be found for the Army and Navy, agriculture, munition making, ship-building, and export work, the quicker will peace come, and the less will be the inevitable loss of life and treasure to the country.
Half measures are always weak measures. A firm believer for years in the value of universal military service, I am now more persuaded of its need than ever. I am thankful to see that our self-governing Colonies have recognised the need—they recognised it even quicker than we did. It is needed not only for its value as a military measure of defence, but even more, I venture to say, for the uplifting of the nation in soul, mind, and body. Let us remember that it is not universal military training which has been the cause of the present unnecessary war, but the unscrupulous, brutal, autocratic Government with which the German people are cursed. Universal military training in a democratic country like ours would increase our desire to avoid unnecessary wars, as each individual man of fighting age would, under that system, know that his vote in favour of war might mean a vote in favour of his own death or mutilation, or if he were above fighting age, would affect the lives 1093 of those of his family or relatives who would have to take their places in the ranks of the Army. At present under the voluntary system the coward can by his voice and vote send the patriotic hero to his death and remain comfortably at home, enjoying the extra sweets of life which fall to his lot through the death or mutilation of his professional or trade rival or business competitor. Such a system is destructive of a nation's soul. It offers a premium on selfishness.
My Lords, it is only by self-sacrifice and unselfishness that either individuals or nations can gain their souls, and enjoy the glorious satisfaction engendered by the consciousness of duty honestly and faithfully performed. The times are dangerous. The future of the British Empire and of civilisation is at stake. We are faced by powerful nations who are yet undefeated. If the war is to be won we must not be content with half measures but must throw into the struggle every ounce of strength which we possess; and the passage into law of the Bill now before the House will, I verily believe, materially conduce to this happy and much to be desired result. May I respectfully hope that the Bill will be passed unanimously. When it becomes an Act I believe it will be the precursor of a sure victory and the harbinger of a glorious peace.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, if I intervene for a minute or two in this debate it is only to express my regret that it has been impossible to extend the operation of this Bill to Ireland, though I quite recognise that this could not be in view of the attitude taken up by Mr. Redmond and the other members of the Nationalist Party. Personally I think that a modified Compulsion Bill applicable only so far as to provide the necessary soldiers to fill the gaps owing to casualties in Irish regiments would not have met with much opposition in Ireland, particularly if supported, as all popular measures in Ireland have been, by meetings held every Sunday in every village after Mass, presided over by the village priest and supported by the Member of Parliament and the prominent local politicians.
But if Irishmen are not to incur the burden of conscription which seems to be cheerfully borne by their fellow-countrymen in this country, I think I have a right in 1094 asking His Majesty's Government for an assurance that the task of recruiting, which is already so difficult in Ireland, shall not be made still more difficult by the competition of Government Departments who offer single men of military age in Ireland civil employment. During the months of March and April an agent of the Government went about in Ireland asking men of military age to join munition works. They were offered wages up to £3 a week, and were told that they were guaranteed not to be taken for military service. I know that in my district no fewer than between 200 and 300 men were taken within one week. Quite lately posters have been stuck up in the various towns asking men to come to this country and help the farmers, and again there has been the assurance that they would not be called upon to join the Colours. I know how anxious my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture is that everything should be done to assist agriculture in this country, but I do not think he would approve of young Englishmen being taken from the farms and sent to the trenches in order that their places should be taken by Irishmen who are not willing to enlist. Lastly, in the West of Ireland the Congested Districts Board are at work, just as gaily as in the piping times of peace, building cottages, scrapping grass farms, and employing every young labourer they can find at wages much above those generally given in the district. I do not think it is fair, when we can only rely in Ireland upon voluntary recruiting as a means of obtaining soldiers, that the Government should offer these counter attractions and thus make even more difficult than it already is the task of obtaining soldiers in that country.
Every Irishman must be very proud of the gallant deeds that have been performed by Irish regiments in this war. But when we again read of a brave charge by an Irish regiment some of us, I think, may be inclined to hang our heads when we reflect that very possibly half of that Irish regiment consists of Englishmen and Scotsmen who have been drafted into it because sufficient Irishmen could not be found to fill the gaps. I know it would be no good during the Committee stage of this Bill in this House to suggest any Amendment dealing with Ireland. Otherwise I should be very much inclined to move one giving power to every county council in Ireland, should it 1095 think fit, to use the Militia Ballot for the purpose of obtaining as many men as, according to the population of the county, would provide a quota necessary to make up the gaps owing to casualties in Irish regiments. This would have the great merit of being purely voluntary, and also the merit—not a small one in Ireland—of there being absolute freedom from English dictation. Were such an Amendment inserted in this Bill I believe it would be at once taken advantage of by a certain number of Irish county councils, and that before long the remainder would follow suit. Ireland would then be saved the discredit of having failed to support during this war those gallant sons of hers who have fought so bravely and who have given their lives for England and the Empire.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will recognise that I have a certain amount of difficulty in addressing the House on this particular Bill. I have to recognise my subordinate position to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal and the War Office, and at the same time to exercise the privilege that I have in this House of criticising as well as supporting any Bill. Any criticism that I may make to-day on this Bill is not for the purpose of in any way destroying the Bill or hampering His Majesty's Government, but of making suggestions as to some form of alteration that may be of material advantage to the working of the Bill. I would also, if I might, deal with one or two of the criticisms which have been made and have come before me in my capacity at the War Office, and with which, therefore, your Lordships will perhaps think me competent to deal.
The noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) and the noble and learned Lord (Lord Parmoor) have both spoken with regard to the conscientious objector. The noble Marquess has proposed that the conscientious objector who is sent into the Army and then punished for insubordination by imprisonment should be sent to a civil prison. I entirely disagree with and should oppose any such proposal. When such a man is in the Army he is not a conscientious objector. He has put forward a plea that he is a conscientious objector and that plea has been rejected by the Tribunals to whom he has submitted it. Therefore when he is in the Army he is a soldier on exactly the same footing as every other recruit; he is made to go into 1096 the Army, and should be treated under military law by the military and detained under military law. I am perfectly certain that if any attempt is made to depart from that procedure it will be subversive of military discipline. Lord Parmoor does not think very highly of the Local Tribunals. I do not know what the noble and learned Lord would have substituted for them. He criticises without any constructive policy. To a certain extent I am responsible for the idea of the formation of these Tribunals. They were formed on most democratic lines, from those who have been elected by the people to an office, and I think it may be said as a general rule that they very accurately carry out the wishes of the people of their localities. The noble and learned Lord will, I think, find that his condemnation of these Tribunals is not one which is held by many people.
A short time ago we were discussing a proposal by which this, the final stage of recruiting for the Army, could have taken the form of a voluntary effort amongst the unattested married men instead of the present proposal. That proposal would have given us, if it had been successful, 200,000 men. From the point of view of administration I do not hesitate to say that that would have been far easier work for Army officials than the present system. It would have meant 200,000 men in the ranks by voluntary enlistment—no question of Tribunals, or of appeals—and beginning their training earlier than they can do at the present moment. But if it was to be successful, we must not only get the 200,000—and I will deal with that number in a minute—but this must also be taken as a complete substitution for compulsion in that it should allow the State to impose other legislation with regard to the Territorials and time-expired men. The House of Commons was not willing to agree to that, and the whole of the proposal, therefore, fell to the ground; and we are now finishing in this House the last stage in the recruiting for this war. I confess that I am glad to see the end, because I think that by this Bill you are going to do away with all charges of unfairness. You are now at all events making an attempt to compel everybody in this country to play his part in the war. I say an "attempt," because I would ask your Lordships to understand that by the passing of this Bill you do not get over all the difficulties of getting the men actually into the ranks; 1097 and I want to ask the Government whether anything can be done in the way of amendment to do away with some of the difficulties with which those who are connected with the duty of bringing these men to the Colours are confronted.
Let me first of all say that labour in this country is not the inexhaustible well that some people think it is, and when people talk gaily of huge numbers I can only say that they can know very little of the facts of the case. Two hundred thousand was named as being the number of men who could have been found under the proposal made some three weeks ago. I venture to think that this is very nearly the figure that we may get under this Bill. Two distinctly different statements were made on the subject by two of His Majesty's Ministers. Mr. Lloyd George said he thought 200,000 too small a number to expect. Mr. Henderson said he thought 200,000 was about the number we might expect. As a matter of fact, I think they were both right. Mr. Lloyd George was speaking from a figure which has been materially decreased since it was written in the Report I made in December. He calculated on there being 1,100,000 unattested married men, but since that date a great many of those men have attested and are now in the attested groups. There fore from the remnant I think that 200,000 men is not far wrong as a guess at the figure we may obtain. Now 200,000 is not sufficient for our requirements. The great bulk of men who we are going to get to the Colours is not from the unattested married men, but from the gradual combing out, or raking out, whichever you like to call it, of the men who are already under the Act which brought single men to the Colours.
Before I bring to your Lordships' notice some of the difficulties in getting these men to the Colours, may I deal with one question that the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) raised. He asked for medical boards to be established in all the towns in Hertfordshire. Does he realise that this means establishing hoards in all the towns throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. If he presses that, I am perfectly certain that Sir Alfred Keogh would be only too grateful to him if he could tell him from where he is to get the doctors. There is at the moment the greatest difficulty in keeping the present hoards staffed properly with doctors, and to extend their numbers to any large extent would, I am certain, be impossible.
1098 Now for the difficulties of getting men to the Colours. One I wish to mention to His Majesty's Government, because I am certain that if it is brought to their cognisance they will do something to remedy it. It is one that has been touched on by Lord Oranmore—namely, the competition between Government Departments and the Army in the securing of men. I wish to give a concrete case to show how far this is carried. This was a letter received by me yesterday from a Labour Member who has done almost more than anybody else to help in recruiting. He writes telling me of a certain unmarried man who went into a shell factory apparently with the intention of evading military service. It was eventually arranged for his work to be done by a woman, and accordingly he was to be discharged in the next batch. But meanwhile—on May 9—the inspector for the district under the Ministry of Munitions informed the military authorities that this young man, who was no longer needed for munitions, had just received from the Civil Service Commissioners an appointment as clerk to a surveyor of taxes. These appointments appear to me indefensible at the present time. If the Government Offices set such an example, how can you expect private employers to play up to the Government? I hope that this will be brought to the notice of those concerned, and that some general order will be issued that men of serviceable age who have been combed out for service in the Army are not taken on and given exemption in other Government Departments.
Another difficulty will be caused by the clause in this Bill to which my noble friend Lord Salisbury alluded—Clause 6, which gives a man two months exemption. There are two sides to this question, and it is only fair that we should look at both of them. There is not the slightest doubt but that what the noble Marquess said is perfectly true. This does create an enormous difficulty to the Army in getting these men. A man who is found not to be indispensable and is therefore liable for service has two months in which to look about for other work before the Army can get him, with the result that it is almost impossible to keep in touch with him. That is a difficulty to the Army. Now let me put the difficulty that I know the Government must have in dealing with this matter. This clause is known as the Industrial Compulsion Clause. Rightly or 1099 wrongly, there is no doubt that a large section of labour in this country look with alarm at what they think is something approaching industrial compulsion, and it is sought in this Bill to guard against it. There are two forms of industrial compulsion which I think your Lordships will agree ought to be provided against. There is the industrial compulsion by which an employer, who has an objection to some of his men who may have given trouble in times of peace by being agitators or having in some other way offended him, takes this opportunity of turning them out of the works and saying to the Army, "You can take them." That is a form of industrial compulsion which I think most unfair, and which we all ought to guard against. There is another form. In the dilution of labour that has been going on for the past few months skilled men have been induced to move from one locality to another to go into works really for instructional purposes, to be foremen to teach others to do munition work. In time those who are taught, even the women, become as skilled as the skilled men, and then the employer may wish to get rid of the men who have sacrificed themselves to assist him in his work and submit them to military service. That, again, is a thing that ought to be guarded against.
But this particular clause goes far beyond that. It protects those men whom, of my own personal knowledge, I know the Labour Members wish particularly not to protect, and those are the men who have gone into munition works for the simple purpose of escaping military service and for no other reason. Nobody wants to protect them. But unfortunately this clause does protect them. I have had something to do with the negotiations with regard to this particular clause. I hope that some words may be found to deal with this difficulty, but I honestly confess that at the moment I cannot suggest any words which would do what we all want to do—namely, protect the men who ought to be protected, and not protect the men whom none of us want to protect. I hope it may be possible to find some Amendment or some method of administration by which we may arrive at the desired object.
I will pass to another, and I think almost the greatest difficulty. That is the question of men in munition works who are eligible 1100 for military service and who are, in the opinion of the various localities in which they are working, only shirking by being in those works. That has given rise to more trouble with regard to recruiting than anything else. You have grocers, pawnbrokers' assistants, all classes of men going into munition works and securing exemption; and it is the fact of their so securing exemption, although not skilled, that gives rise to so much irritation. To be perfectly fair, I quite recognise the difficulty that Mr. Lloyd George, as Minister of Munitions, has had in getting sufficient labour. Indeed, I think he would say that he has not even now sufficient labour. Hence his reluctance to part with any of these men. Arrangements are being made by means of a Committee to de-badge these men and secure them for military service. But I should be deceiving your Lordships if I did not tell you that these methods of de-badging are excessively slow; and if we are to wait for that system to work itself out coupled with two months exemption, we shall not get the men as rapidly as is desired. I should like, I candidly confess, to see the Resolution that was proposed in the House of Commons, even if in a modified form, put into this Bill. That Resolution, which received a very large amount of support in the House of Commons, was to the effect that every man whether in a certified occupation or in munition works should go before a Tribunal and have his case decided. That received support in the House of Commons, and I think it would be very popular outside. But there were difficulties in the way which prevented His Majesty's Government accepting it. I was more in hopes yesterday than I am to-day that some arrangement could be come to by which clear cases of shirkers could be dealt with by Local Tribunals without all the machinery that necessitates reference to the Ministry of Munitions, and I have put down an Amendment for the Committee stage which at all events will give an opportunity for discussion on this question, and, I hope, for some arrangement being arrived at. But I can assure His Majesty's Government that I have not put it down in any spirit of opposition to the Bill, and that I most certainly should not press it to such an extent as in any way to militate against the rapid passage of the Bill.
There is one other matter which I should like to mention, although it is 1101 rather outside the scope of the Bill—namely, the question, not of the amount of financial assistance that is going to be given, but of the method. I venture to think it is very desirable that His Majesty's Government should consider whether it would not be possible to co-ordinate more the work of the Tribunals and that of the barristers who are to form the Courts for allocating the amount of financial assistance to be given. I will tell you why. I am perfectly certain that the present system, however good it may be from the Treasury point of view of control, is going to make the getting of these recruits a more lengthy business than it otherwise would have been. Consider what it means. A man comes before a Local Tribunal. He pleads for exemption on the ground that to go into the Service would mean absolute ruin to him. What does the Tribunal do? The Tribunal says, "Very well; we will postpone your case until after you have been before the barrister who decides these questions." These particular Courts, when set up, will not have the right to decide the questions even then. They have to be referred to London, with the barrister's recommendations, for settlement there. Therefore this man is going to be put back until London has settled the hundreds of thousands of cases of requests for financial assistance. I hope that the Government will see some way of bringing into closer touch the Tribunals that deal with the men's ordinary appeals and these bodies that deal with their financial appeals, because I am perfectly certain that the financial bodies will get an enormous amount of help from the ordinary Tribunals. The ordinary Tribunals, being composed of inhabitants of the place, knowing probably the men intimately, would be able to give information with regard to the cost of living and the effect that service would have on the men which could not be obtained in any other way. I therefore respectfully suggest to His Majesty's Government that they should consider whether there is not some way by which the work of these two bodies could be co-ordinated. I am certain it would save time, and in the long run would be found less costly to the State.
I have pointed out, not objections to the Bill—I can have no objections to the Bill—but I have pointed out some of diffi- 1102 culties with regard to the administration of the Bill, and I hope His Majesty's Government will accept my assurance that I have put them forward not in any cavilling spirit but with a sincere wish to make the Bill a thoroughly workable measure, so as to give us the men quickly and to give them to the Army with as little dislocation of industrial life as is possible. We are writing the last page of the recruiting campaign to-day and the end of the voluntary system, but I think we ought to pay some tribute to those who under the voluntary system have come forward in their hundreds of thousands without being waited for. I venture to think that no country has ever at any time in its history shown such a splendid response to the Colours as the first eighteen months of this war showed.
Some people say, "We ought to have had this a year ago. We ought to have had it ten years ago." A year ago I do not know whether you would have had it passed with as little friction as I believe you will have it passed now. Perhaps it may be because I was personally connected with it that I say so, but I cannot help thinking that the recruiting campaign of last autumn did much to bring people to realise what the requirements of the State were. I am not one of those who want to overrate the opposition of Labour in this country to a compulsory system; on the other hand, I do not wish to underrate it. There was undoubtedly some months ago strong opposition on the part of many, an opposition which has been overcome because they have been brought face to face with the realities of the situation. They have been told what the necessity of the situation is, and by their contact through that big recruiting campaign with the people they have found that there are men—though they ought to serve, and should be made to serve—whom nothing except compulsion will ever bring to the Colours. This Bill will pass with the consent of practically the whole of the country. It comes as the fulfilment of that pledge of the Prime Minister which we ought all to bear in mind when thinking of this war—the pledge which he made in his Guildhall speech, pledging this country to their last man and to their last shilling; and though it has not come to the last shilling, I hope this Bill will give the last man to the Colours who can be taken without interfering unduly with industrial life.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the reception accorded to this Bill has been so friendly and the criticism passed upon it so reasonable that I hope not to have to trouble your Lordships with very many remarks at this stage of its consideration. My noble friend Lord Salisbury would have been more than human had he not commenced his very effective speech by twitting us, not I think in a very unfriendly tone, owing to the fact that this proposal comes to him somewhat in the guise of a belated one. My noble friend made the old suggestion that if we had only known our own minds rather sooner, if we had only exhibited a little more firmness, we might have had this measure a long time ago. I profoundly disagree with my noble friend's theory. I quite admit that a Government entirely free to deal as it pleased with this great question, embarking upon an effort of the kind in which this country has embarked and with a clean slate to work upon, would be justified in enforcing at the very outset what the noble Viscount below the Gangway properly calls the universal obligation of every citizen of the country to serve. But we must look upon these questions as practical people, and I at any rate hold very strongly that it has not been until the present time that we could have adopted with any prospect of success the course which we have adopted.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The responsibilities of those who sit on this Bench obviously date from the time when the Coalition Government was formed. If when that Government was formed we had attempted to make it a condition of our adhesion that a measure of compulsion should be resorted to no Coalition would have been possible. In my view a Coalition which did not include the representatives of the Labour Party would have been of very little value, and at that time, beyond all question, organised Labour was solid against compulsion. Well, could we at some earlier moment after the Coalition have obtained the acceptance of a compulsory measure? Will my noble friend consider what the position was during the first few months which followed the formation of the Coalition Government? My noble friend Lord Derby gave, I thought, a correct summary of the events. At that moment 1104 the great voluntary movement was going breast high. My noble and gallant friend behind me (Lord Kitchener) was in favour of that movement. He was not then—I do not think I misrepresent him—in favour of resorting to compulsion. He had just asked for a fresh levy of 300,000 recruits. We had no machinery in existence by which compulsion could have been put in operation. It was not until the month of July that the National Registration Bill was put upon the Statute Book. Then came the historical appeal made by my noble friend opposite (Lord Derby), an appeal which drew upon him much well-deserved commendation and a good deal of ill-deserved criticism. It was the Derby Appeal which led to the Prime Minister's pledge, and it was the Prime Minister's pledge which led to the Bill which in the month of January of this year became law, under which we took compulsory powers as against the unmarried men. I believe that throughout that time we might as well have cried for the moon as for compulsion. I am inclined to put it in this way. In the middle of January, after a great deal of sustained effort, we who were in favour of some measure of compulsion succeeded in capturing the first line of trenches, and the first line of trenches only. After that, evidence gradually accumulated that even under the new Act we were not going to get the men whom the military authorities required; and that led to the—I think it has been so called, and it is an appropriate word—abortive Bill which made a brief appearance in the foreground of our political life not many days ago. That Bill would have got us the men we wanted, but it would have got them under conditions which were obviously unfair and which attracted to the proposals a great deal of perfectly reasonable criticism. My impression is that it was the exhibition of that Bill that brought compulsion really within our reach, and if that Bill had not been produced it is extremely doubtful whether, even now, we should be in a position to ask Parliament for compulsory powers. It was well put by my noble friend Lord Sandhurst, that all this time there had been a gradual hardening of public opinion and that the psychological moment was only really reached within a very few days, or at any rate a very few weeks, ago.
I dare say I may be told that this recital is not a very attractive illustration of the 1105 results of a Coalition Government. It seems to me that too many of us forget that a Coalition Government is a Coalition Government, and that a Coalition Government means giving and taking, and compromises, and a reluctance—I think a reasonable reluctance—to fight over again the old political battles in a newly-formed Cabinet. May I give the House a very homely parallel illustrating my meaning? I once knew of a case where a lady and a gentleman married, the lady being a widow and the gentleman a widower. Both of them had children. In due time further children were born of this new union. Some years afterwards a visitor to the house heard a great uproar on the stairs and appealed to his hostess for an explanation. She said, "Oh, that is his children fighting my children and our children trying to keep the peace." That is rather what happens behind the scenes in a coalition. There are proposals which are obviously of a Conservative origin, others winch are obviously of a Liberal origin, and there are yet others of a mixed parentage. It is the latter class of proposals which are intended to keep the peace, and which occasionally have rather a bad time of it in trying to do so.
I wish to say two or three words with regard to a point which was dealt with by Lord Oranmore. My noble friend asked us why it was that we had excluded Ireland from the operation of this Bill. We excluded it from the operation of the January Bill, and I then endeavoured to state the reasons why we had taken this course. The same reasons, I think, apply still. It is quite true that you may urge that logically the fact that universal campulsion has been introduced somewhat alters the case, but the practical difficulties seem to me to remain the same. They are, briefly recapitulated, these. The success of our recruiting measures in this country depends upon the operations of those Tribunals which my noble friend Lord Derby appropriately referred to just now as being essentially democratic Tribunals. I venture to maintain that in Ireland we have no materials from which Tribunals of that kind could be formed. If you were to resort, let us say, to resident magistrates and officials of that kind you would have a wholly different Court to go to, and the people of Ireland would be able to complain—and I think rightly—that they were not being treated in the same way as the people of this country.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
I did not suggest that this Bill could be applied to Ireland. I quite realise that it cannot. I only said that I hoped the Government would give directions that counter attractions might not be offered, such as joining munition works, to render recruiting in Ireland still more difficult.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am mach obliged for my noble friend's explanation. I will not press that point further, except perhaps to say that at this particular moment, when the nerves of all classes of the community in all parts of Ireland are very highly strung, it would be to my mind the height of madness to introduce a new cause of contention into that unfortunate country.
May I say, on the general question, that I regard this Bill as a very great advance upon the Bill of last month. Not that I believe that it will get us many more men than the last Bill would have got, or that it will get them much more quickly. The old difficulties, the difficulties of time, which have always, as my noble friend knows, rather clogged and impeded the operations of recruiting, will exist under this Bill as they would under the other Bill, and we have to reckon with them. But to my mind the great advantage that this Bill enjoys is that from the moment that you frankly admit the principle of universal military obligation you make it infinitely easier to deal with the kind of hard cases which are sure to arise, and which arise under this Bill as they arose under the abortive Bill—I mean such cases as that of the time-expired man, who finds that his liability is extended beyond the limits of the contract into which he has entered; or, again, the case—particularly shocking at first sight to many of us—of the transfer of the Territorial from one corps to another, or even to a Regular unit.
I will say a few words with regard to one or two of the points of detail which were raised by my noble friend Lord Salisbury and one or two others. He apologised for his inquiries on the ground that they may not be considered germane at this stage of the Bill. I feel sure that I only express the feeling of the House when I say that the points he raised seemed to us extremely germane, and that we are glad to be warned in time of the importance which he and 1107 others attach to them. My noble friend Lord Derby dealt with the suggestion that under Clause 3, subsection (2), we might multiply stations to which men might apply for medical examination. I think there are practical difficulties in the way of a wholesale carrying out of that proposal, for the reason that there is a great dearth of doctors and that the proposal would involve a very heavy tax upon the powers of the doctors who are available. But we do feel that it would be very hard that those men who, beyond all question, are not in a condition to be recalled to the Service, should be kept in suspense a day longer than is necessary; and I hope we may be able to find some means by which they shall be given an opportunity of getting themselves relieved from that suspense within as short a limit of time as possible.
Then my noble friend referred to Clause 6 of the Bill. I frankly admit that I find the problem which confronts us in Clause 6 an extremely difficult one to handle. But I will say this about it. This clause is inspired by a desire to treat as respectfully as possible the intense suspicion with which in the working classes any proposal which bears the slightest resemblance to what is commonly called industrial compulsion is regarded, and I am quite sure it is a vital necessity that this misgiving should be respected and that we should keep well on the right side of the line whenever we have to deal with the point. This clause was prepared upon the assumption that, so far as men already engaged on work of national importance are concerned, it was not unreasonable to leave them where they are now with the full two months period of grace. The Government, as my noble friend knows, are taking steps to weed out from such employment any men who are not really required.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
They will all have two months grace, every one of them, under this clause—I mean the ones you are weeding out.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Yes; but a great many of them are gone already. At any rate, we apprehend that the large majority of these men are likely to remain in their present employment, and that the question would not be likely to arise in their case. In the case, on the other hand, of the men who are in work not 1108 of national importance and who have had a short exemption given them for a special purpose, the curtailment of the period from two months to two weeks will afford a very material relief to a difficulty which is a real one, and which the military authorities have constantly encountered owing to the long interval between the moment when these men cease to be employed and the moment when they can be called upon for military service. But I admit that the clause is a very difficult one, and we shall be quite ready to consider it at a future stage if any one can provide us with a formula which will meet the requirements of the case. My noble friend Lord Derby, who has an expert knowledge of these questions to which few of us, if any, can pretend, admitted quite frankly that he himself was not prepared with a form of words.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Perhaps he will produce one for our consideration in good time. Then there is the question of the action to be taken to deal with cases in which the Appeal Tribunals have obviously made a serious mistake in refusing leave to an applicant to appeal from their decision—what my noble friend called vexatious refusal of appeal. I wish to be very careful not to admit that these erroneous decisions are of common occurrence.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
There is general testimony that upon the whole these Tribunals are doing their work extremely well, and they are probably doing their work better and better as time goes on—for this among other reasons, that the Central Appeal Tribunal is circulating statements of typical difficult cases which go to the Appeal Tribunals and greatly assist them in standardising their decisions. But I admit that there probably are cases in which the Appeal Tribunal may have gone astray, and nothing would please me more than to provide a means of remedying the injustice, if injustice has been done. But I urge upon my noble friend that upon the other hand we must be extremely careful about taking any 1109 step which will open too wide a door through which every applicant who is dissatisfied with the finding of the Appeal Tribunal could carry his case to the Central Tribunal. One result of any action of the kind would be that the Central Tribunal would be absolutely swamped with appeals. There can be no doubt about it. It has gallantly struggled with the great mass of appeals with which it has had to deal, but I am quite sure that if the word went forth that wholesale appeals were to be permitted to every discontented litigant the Central Tribunal would break down. I am sure my noble friend realises that this is not by any means an imaginary danger.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I ventured the other day—and I think my noble friend Lord Sandhurst said something of the same kind—to state, in regard to this matter, that we were prepared to go at any rate this far in meeting the point. Where a particular ease appears to call for reconsideration for substantial reasons, and reasons urged by a substantial authority—I rather insist upon that, because there is a great difference between that and allowing the man himself to come forward—in all such cases the President of the Local Government Board is ready to send particulars of the case to the Tribunal by which it was tried for the observations of that Tribunal. My right hon. friend is prepared to go even further, and, if it seems necessary, to call for the production of the evidence so that it may be examined; and if, after such examination, he is satisfied that there is a prima facie reason to suppose that the case has been improperly decided, he will then reserve to himself the power of asking the Tribunal to re-hear the case. That is only a bald outline—
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
May I ask the noble Marquess to indicate what kind of authority he means by a "substantial authority"?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I mean, for example, a local Council or some reputable persons who were able to bring forward a substantial proof that an injustice had been done. I was going to say that obviously the procedure to be followed will require a good deal of examination, and I am only able to give to my noble friend 1110 what I described as a bald outline of the kind of procedure that we have in view.
The only other point upon which I think I might say a word is the complaint as to the treatment of conscientious objectors who have been handed over to the charge of the military authorities. It is urged that such men ought not to be treated by disciplinary methods, and that some other mode of dealing with them should be found. Let me remind the House that no case of this kind can arise except where a man has been twice before a Tribunal, once before the Local Tribunal and the second time before the Appeal Tribunal. The man, therefore, is technically not recognised as a conscientious objector at all. He is a soldier, and as such he is handed over to the military authorities. But we all must realise that there are great difficulties in the treatment of the conscientious objector.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
There are innumerable varieties of them, and it is extremely difficult to distinguish between one variety and another. In the first place, there is this inherent difficulty in the case, that we expect the Tribunals to do what no Human Tribunal can do, which is to fathom the interior of a man's conscience and determine whether he is a conscientious objector or a fraudulent objector. I am prepared to admit that, although these men are not technically any longer conscientious objectors, there may be cases where it is necessary to handle them with a certain amount of discrimination. I have discussed this point with my noble and gallant friend behind me (Lord Kitchener) and I am able to say that he has under consideration a scheme, which for obvious reasons I prefer not to describe in detail, which will, I think, go far in the direction of meeting the criticism made by my noble friend.
There are no doubt other points, but they can probably best be reserved for discussion at the Committee stage of the Bill. All I need now do is to thank your Lordships for your reception of the Bill, and to join in the hope which has been expressed that it may mark a thoroughly satisfactory ending of a very long and difficult controversy.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, most of what I had intended to say has been anticipated by preceding speakers, but after what has been just said by the noble Marquess I wish to say one or two words with regard to civil and military prisons and conscientious objectors. This is an extraordinarily difficult question, and I think that the argument which Lord Derby used in reply to what was said by the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Salisbury) does not quite meet the case. It is not a case of getting local opinion; it is not a case of a democratic Tribunal; it is a case of investigating what, as was just said by the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne), is an extremely difficult question. To determine whether what a man says is genuinely his conscientious feeling or whether he is only using it as a cloak to hide his cowardice or laziness is a question for a judicial mind, and one not suited to Tribunals such as have been constituted to deal with these cases. I admit the Local Tribunal is well constituted for some purposes. It knows local conditions, and the nature of employment in the locality; but it is not fitted to decide a psychological question of great intricacy and difficulty.
It is a matter of common knowledge that there exists a good deal of irritation. I was glad to hear what was said by the noble Marquess, that the cases in which the Local Tribunals have gone wrong are comparatively few. Of course, the cases in which the decisions commend themselves to every body in the locality are not mentioned; it is only the decisions that are supposed to be hard of which we hear. At the same time there can be no doubt that there does exist in many parts of the country, certainly in the Universities, from which I have had many representations, a good deal of discontent with the way in which the Tribunals have dealt with these cases. One must remember that although there are many shams and many "cranks," still there is a residuum of people who have an honest conviction that it would be wrong to take the action which a soldier's life requires. Something very true and very germane to the point was said by a Member in another place, I think Lord Hugh Cecil. He said that you must remember in these cases that you are asking a man to do that which he thinks is wrong, and it is a very strong thing to impose upon anybody the doing of what he thinks is morally wrong.
1112 I need hardly say that I have not, and I do not suppose any of your Lordships have, any belief that those conscientious objectors who think they find in the Bible a distinct prohibition against the work of a soldier are right. We think that they interpret the Scriptures wrongly. At the same time we know that many good men have held such an opinion, and we know that there is something shocking to ourselves in the idea of a clergyman engaging actually in warfare. That was felt in the Middle Ages. We know that the tribute paid to it by the brother of William the Conqueror was that he carried on war not with a battleaxe but with a mace, thereby smashing skulls instead of cutting arteries. We must be prepared for a certain number of people to push what they think are their consciences to extreme lengths. We have always been in this country a highly individualistic people, and the existence of a certain number of "cranks," if you like to call them so, or people who push their conscientious sentiments to an extreme point, is the penalty we have to pay for having always given a great liberty of freedom to the individual. We do not want to push that to extremes. At the same time, we do not want to ignore it and deny that there are a considerable number of people to whose conscientious feeling some consideration should be given. These Local Tribunals are not well fitted for that kind of work, and I think it is much to be desired that some more general indication of the lines they ought to follow should come from the Central Tribunal. Therefore I was extremely glad to hear what the noble Marquess said, that there is to be an attempt at standardisation which will give more light than they seem to possess to the Local Tribunals as to the course they ought to follow.
I come now to the question of civil and military prisons. Shortly, the argument put forward by the noble Marquess opposite was to this effect—that the offence, although committed by the man after he had been drafted into military service, is not in the natural sense of the word a military offence. It is an offence against the State. He refuses to obey the State law, and therefore there does seem to be a rational reason why he should be treated as a civilian prisoner rather than as a military prisoner. It has been suggested that such a one might even be punished by the deprivation of some of his civil rights—the right to vote, for instance; 1113 but that might not be thought by some to be sufficient punishment for an offence of this kind.
Then we want to relieve the military authorities as far as we can of the odium which may attach to those who are dealing with these men who take objection on conscientious grounds. I would far rather see it thrown upon the civil authorities, because it is a civil obligation which is imposed. There is another point to bear in mind. We are anxious that this Bill should be carried through with the least possible amount of friction and irritation. We have arrived at the conclusion that there is no alternative except to adopt a measure of this kind, and so we are discussing this question, which has excited so much passion and feeling elsewhere, in an atmosphere of unprecedented serenity. As the noble Marquess observed, we are anxious that this serenity should spread through the country, and that there should be as little as possible of grievance at any rate in conection with the operation of the Act. We do not want to create any fissure in that unanimity which the nation, with scarcely an exception, feels in the necessity for prosecuting this war to a successful issue. It has beenfor us a great asset to have had this unanimity of feeling, and anything we can do to preserve it by avoiding friction and irritation will be well done. We shall gain more in that way than we should lose by here and there somebody not being brought into the Army who might have been brought in. At any rate, we would wish to feel that everything that can be done to soften the process has been done. Therefore I welcome, as many would I am sure, what was said by the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) just now with regard to the possibility of having a further method of dealing with cases in which the Tribunals may not have given satisfaction. If the noble Marquess could indicate a little more than he has done what he means by a "substantial authority" it would be a good thing. Does he mean, for instance, that if such a body as a College of one of the Universities was to certify that one of its body who has made a conscientious objection was known by them to be a man who would not make it from cowardice or to evade his duty, that would be a "substantial authority"? Or would a body of reputable citizens in the locality who have known the man himself and have a respect for his character be accepted as being entitled to 1114 offer a representation of that sort? Anything that can be done in that line would probably have a considerable effect in allaying the apprehension and irritation which exist.
My Lords, I should be sorry to appear to say anything that might suggest that I take a different view from your Lordships as to the main principles of this war, because that is not so. But as to the principles of this particular Bill I remain unconvinced and I stand where I did, not being prepared to admit that it is necessary, and, in any event, not admitting that it is desirable. To my mind, it remains a Prussian victory against this country that we should have been brought to resort to compulsion, and it presents a tarnish on our magnificent voluntary effort. But I need not trouble your Lordships to-night with any theoretical objections of that character; the time has passed for that. It is not many months since I said the same thing in your Lordships' House. I might not have expected to have to say it again so soon, and I might not have expected it on the authority of the Prime Minister himself. For I find in Hansard on January 12 that the Prime Minister, answering a previous speaker in another place, said—My right hon. friend fears, I am sure quite genuinely and honestly, that if this Bill is carried it may be used as a precedent, or as a starting point, for the adoption of something in the nature of general compulsion. I have no such fear.That was only four months ago, and to-day we find a measure of general compulsion before your Lordships' House.
But there are one or two practical matters that I think might with advantage be considered. Your Lordships have heard a good deal from other speakers—so much that I think it need not be enlarged upon—as to the effect of the irritation in administration which is produced by the conscientious objector. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill suggested that we should throw away our previous convictions. Well, the conscientious objector is a person who refuses to throw away his previous convictions, and he becomes very difficult for the authorities to deal with for that reason. The noble Earl opposite suggested that when a Tribunal had decided that the man had not a conscientious objection he ceased to be a conscientious objector; he ceased to be a civilian, and became a soldier This 1115 may be a perfectly correct legal statement, but, as the noble Viscount who has just sat down said, it does not accord with the facts, and you are causing an unfortunate irritation from the point of view of national unity. I therefore welcome very much the announcement made by the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) that some better method of dealing with these cases is to be found. I think the tactless attitude which has been adopted towards them may, perhaps, account for some of the trouble that has taken place. In a prosecution at the Mansion House yesterday I heard Brigadier-General Childs give evidence, and he is reported in The Times to have said that "all disciplinary cases in which conscientious objectors were concerned came before him." Also—which is not reported in The Times—in cross-examination, in answer to the question "Do you know any Quakers?" he said "I am happy to say I do not." In view of the history of Quakers in this country, I think that such an answer in a public Court by a man who occupies an important position and is responsible for the discipline of conscientious objectors may intensify the unfortunate feeling that is growing up.
I should like to ask—though perhaps this is hardly the time to do it—why or with what advantage to the Army conscientious objectors have been sent to France. It is said that seventeen of them have been sent there. It is hardly likely that they will encourage our troops. I heard it stated yesterday by counsel for the Crown—what I believe to be perfectly true—that every man of this kind is a centre of disaffection and does distinct harm to the military unit with which he is associated. I hardly think it will improve the morale of the troops with whom these men come into contact. However, I do not believe it is the intention of the military authorities to get rid of them by quietly shooting them when they get to the Front. But I ask, What gain has the sending of these men to France been to the Army or to the country?
I will give your Lordships an instance as to the kind of decision given by the Tribunals. A man appealed to an Appeal Tribunal against non-combatant service, and said he would not take life at the bidding of any man. He was ordered full service. If the Tribunal were convinced he was lying, well and good. But short of that, what is the sense of ordering 1116 full service for a man who makes this statement and who, from his subsequent conduct, may show that he meant it? I was glad to hear an appeal coming from a much more influential quarter than my own—namely, from the noble Marquess opposite—with regard to the conscientious objector and his treatment. Those of us who are anxious to preserve as far as possible national unity, those of us who are anxious to win this war, those of us who are anxious not to raise any feeling against the military and not to put the military in the position of inflicting punishment on unwilling slaves to whom every form of military duty is abhorrent, are anxious to do what we can to close up this running sore in the body politic. The number of conscientious objectors is not large. Why cannot the wit of the Government be exercised to devise some measure of dealing with them without their being subjected to what they are bound to object to at every stage? As the noble Marquess said, because it is military at each stage you have the same objection taken by the same men for the same reason. I hope we shall see an end of that which is rather foolish, and which I think, if persisted in, might go some way to destroy the great enthusiasm for this war, the great enthusiasm for the noble principles for which we are fighting, which we do not want to lose in this country while fighting another country to uphold them.
§ LORD HINDLIP
My Lords, may I be allowed to join in the general welcome extended by your Lordships' House to this Bill? My object in intervening in this debate is more or less for the purpose of extracting a little information particularly from one Department, and at this late hour I will confine myself to that. The Notice issued by the Board of Agriculture on April 26 seems to me to be extremely fair, but I would like to ask whether it is the latest Notice that has been issued and whether it is likely to remain in force for some time. It is, as I have said, a very fair Notice, but I should like to know whether it is going to be acted upon generally, whether it is going to be more or less read into the Bill. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture went down to Worcester a short time ago, and, if he will allow me to say so, made a most inspiring speech from the point of view of agriculture. He rated everybody, I think very properly and very fairly.
1117 I received this morning a letter which does not fill one with confidence as to what is going to happen to the farmer. This is the case of a man farming 150 acres who was starred last year. Notwithstanding that, he was called up two days ago, and was told by the recruiting officer that his star was obsolete and that it Was too late to appeal. I understand he has since found out that he is able to appeal, and he is doing so. But this, I believe, has caused an uncomfortable feeling in the man's district. I should like to think that all the Tribunals receive the Notices, the Notices approved not only by the Board of Agriculture but by the War Office. As to the Tribunals, I am inclined to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, as against Lord Derby. Some Tribunals seem to be more warlike than the War Office; others the reverse. But there seems to me to be a kind of babel of instructions issued by the Departments. The Board of Agriculture's representative gets his orders from the Board of Agriculture, and I imagine he is supposed to attend every meeting of the Tribunal in his district; the War Office representative gets his instructions from the War Office; and the Tribunals, I understand, have themselves Various instructions from the Local Government Board.
The question will arise in many parts of the country as to market gardeners and small holders. I noticed in the paper the other day that a man who a noble Lord on this side of the House considered should be exempt for the purpose of growing food was not thought a proper subject for exemption by the Local Tribunal. Personally I should be more inclined to take the opinion of the noble Earl opposite (Lord Selborne) on that point than that of the Local Tribunal. Could we not have a definition of some kind as to what constitutes a market gardener or small holder to be exempted under this Bill? It is an intricate question, and some very difficult cases will come up. Is there any difference now between the position of the married men who attested under the belief that it was necessary to attest in order to be able to appeal—I mean men who were in certified occupations—is there any difference between them and the men who did not attest? In the Board of Agriculture Notice the attested married men in certain cases are able to be exempted by the recruiting officer without reference 1118 to the Tribunal, but I fancy that most of the Tribunals are rather standing on their dignity and insisting on all attested men appearing before them. I do not know whether that is because the fact is so well known that the registration was badly done, or because they wish everybody to come within their purview. For what my opinion is worth, I am sure that under the Board of Agriculture Notice all the men are taken away from the land who can be spared. Beyond that I am very doubtful whether you can take more. As far as women are concerned, they are doing a great deal. They can do a great deal more, although they can never do as much in this country within the next year or two as is being done by the women in other countries. On this question of women workers, I noticed that Mr. Lloyd George the other day gave the percentage in Germany as 80, in France as 60, and in England as only 8. I do not know on what these percentages were worked out, but it is obvious that with this great difference in the German proportion and our own we cannot expect as much work done in this way in England as is being done abroad.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships longer. I notice that the noble Earl made a remark the other day that some people thought food came down like manna from Heaven. I am glad to think that he has found some people who are under the impression that food is produced by Heavenly intervention. In my opinion a great number of people appear to think that food comes from shops and restaurants, and that it exists purely for the purpose of their wasting it.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OP SELBORNE)
My Lords, I will answer my noble friend's questions, and I am glad that in your Lordships' House there is at least one friend of agriculture. There are, I know, many more, but I wish their voices were more often heard. The noble Lord asked me whether the Circular of April 26 stood and held good. My answer to him is, Yes, it does. There is no change since that Circular was issued. Then he alluded to the case of a farmer who had been called up. This is not the only case that has been brought to my notice, but I cannot conceive under what circumstances a farmer who complies with the definition of a certified occupation in 1119 this Circular can be called up. Here is the definition—Farmer, including market gardener and fruit farmer, provided that farming is his sole occupation, and his personal labour or superintendence is indispensable for the proper cultivation of his holding.Those latter words were inserted for this reason. Yon may have two brothers farming together, and one may be quite sufficient to manage the farm during the time of the war. In that case the other brother ought to go. But I assume that the case which my noble friend mentioned is not such a case as that.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
It is, I understand, the case of a man whose sole occupation is farming, and on whose superintendence and management the cultivation of the farm depends. It certainly is wholly against the intentions of the Government and of the War Office, just as much as of the Board of Agriculture, that such a man should be sent into the ranks of the Army. All I can say is that if such cases do occur and they are brought to my notice I am sure my noble and gallant friend Lord Kitchener will assist me in trying to remedy the wrong that has been done. And when I say "wrong" I am not talking of the hardship to the man individually. I am talking of the wrong to the nation, because, as I will show presently and as I have already mentioned in this House, the matter of food production is one of growing and intense anxiety.
The noble Lord alluded to the working of the Tribunals, and asked whether the married man who had attested voluntarily would be in a different position from the man who had not attested and who now, under the Bill that your Lordships are discussing, is brought within the purview of military service. Nobody knows better than my noble friend opposite (Lord Derby) what great harm was done by those zealous recruiting officers who went about without any authority and put up placards stating, "No appeal without attestation." There is no doubt that a good many men would not have attested but for that notice, which was wholly unauthorised—
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
And which has done far more harm than good. I do not think, so far as I know, that the position of a man who did attest under that pressure will be any more favourable before the Tribunal than the position of the man who did not attest. The case of each will be judged on the principles laid down in the instructions sent by the Local Government Board to the Local Tribunals; and in those cases where they differ the case will be argued before the Tribunals by my representative on the one hand and by the representative of the War Office on the other. I am glad to say that in a great many cases they do not differ. They come to an arrangement, and both hold the same view. But there arc cases, as you would suppose, where they do differ, and then they have to assist in the pleading of the case before the Local Tribunal.
Testimony has been given, justly given in my judgment, as to the working of these Tribunals as a whole, and considering their number and the materials which existed for their composition I think their performance has been remarkable. But I do not conceal from your Lordships, and I should particularly not wish to conceal from the House of Commons, that I view the proceedings of some of the Appeal Tribunals with very grave anxiety. Cases have been reported to me, each by what my noble friend behind me would call a "substantial authority," which are quite incomprehensible. Two cases were brought to my notice only to-day of men in charge of some ploughing machines. One was a case where a steam plough had under contract 2,000 acres of land; yet the men connected with that machine were sent by the Appeal Tribunal into the Army, at the very moment when Lord Kitchener has done his best to get back from the ranks of the Army some of the men who, earlier in the war, had voluntarily enlisted from the same class of labour.
I am told by those who know the House of Commons that there is an impression prevalent among a large section of that Assembly that agriculture has not even yet given its fair quota of men to the Army. I do not say that there are not farms, possibly parishes and possibly districts, where there are still men who ought to be taken from agriculture for the Army; but I do say that I believe, taken as a whole, agriculture has given not only its full share but more than its full share 1121 of men to the Army, and that we have reached a point where, unless the Tribunals are extremely careful what they do, the food production of this country will be seriously impaired. Those words are uttered with a very full sense of responsibility. Taking the farmers of the country as a whole, they have parted with almost all the skilled labour they can possibly spare. And, my Lords, I would say to those in the House of Commons who have taken the view that agriculture has not given its full quota, Do they really consider what it means if the Tribunals make a mistake and send many men to the Army who are really indispensable for the production of food on the land? It means that more food will have to be imported, and tonnage diverted from the carriage of munitions to the carriage of food; it means that money will be spent on buying food elsewhere which would otherwise be used in supporting the finance of the Allied Armies in the field; and it means a constantly increasing cost of living—it means famine prices. Therefore I earnestly beg those in the House of Commons, if such there be, who think that many men can still be taken from the land, to accept on my responsibility the assurance that this is not so, and that the danger at the present moment is not lest too few men should be taken from the land into the Army but lest the land should be so drained that the food production of this country should be seriously crippled.
I should like to say a word in reply to my noble friend opposite and in endorsement of what my noble friend Lord Lansdowne said. My noble friend opposite skimmed very lightly over the possible existence of the danger of a breach of national unity. He put that aside as having been more or less a bogey, conjured up by the imagination of His Majesty's Government and never really existing. My noble friend is entitled to his opinion, but in my judgment he is wrong. There has been a real danger of such a breach in the unity of the nation as would have far outweighed any advantage from what is called a more bold or clean-cut policy. In my judgment we who have earnestly contended for this Bill would have done very wrong had we even run a risk of breaking that unity when our purpose could be served and we could get our object and maintain that unity. Of course, I prefer this Bill to the plan which we 1122 discussed a few weeks ago. But my noble friend is quite wrong in thinking that this Bill is going to give us one man more than that compromise would have done, or give us one man a single day earlier. That plan had not the merit of simplicity or of a clean-cut principle.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I do not admit that, because if the result is the same in both cases there is no unfairness in adopting one plan rather than the other. He said, as proof of the fact that there never had been a danger of disunion, "Where is the disunion now?" My Lords, not only is the argument true that my noble friend used, but I would remind him that a great deal has happened since we had our previous discussion in this House. In the first place, the opinion of the House of Commons is of great weight in the formation of national opinion on such a subject as this. Then there have been these horrible events in Ireland, coining just at that moment, convincing everybody rho may have needed convincing how complicated and how serious is the task which still lies before us in the war. I have said that because I dispute altogether the assurnption that lay at the bottom of my noble friend's statement, that the circumstances to-day are exactly the same as they were when we discussed the question last in your Lordships' House.
§ LORD HINDLIP
Will the noble Earl give me an answer to my question whether the Board of Agriculture's representative is expected to attend each Tribunal?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
There is a representative of the Board of Agriculture appointed to each Appeal Tribunal. He is supposed to be present at every sitting when agricultural cases are taken. Generally it is a matter of arrangement between him and the Tribunal as to the days on which those cases will be taken. As regards the Local Tribunals, the War Agricultural Committee have appointed their representative to those Tribunals, and they, I imagine, make the same arrangement.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
Before the debate closes, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it has been represented to the War 1123 Office that those time-expired men who have been, or will be, discharged before this Bill comes into force should be allowed the opportunity of rejoining their old units, if there are any vacancies in those units? Under Clause 13 the Government have full powers at a subsequent period to transfer them to any other unit they desire; therefore that point will be perfectly safeguarded. But it seems to me only right that those men who have done their service and are discharged because they are time-expired should have an opportunity of rejoining their old unit.
I am instructed that the wish which the noble Lord has indicated will be respected as far as possible.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.