§ House again in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The EARL of KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved, after Clause 6, the insertion of a new clause "Supplemental provisions as to residence and occupation." The noble Viscount said: I beg formally to move the insertion of the new clause. I have already stated at an earlier stage what the object of the clause is. It is only a drafting clause.
§ Amendment moved—
§ After Clause 6, insert as a new clause:
§ "Supplemental provision as to residence and occupation.
".—(1) Where premises are in the joint occupation of two or more persons, each of the joint occupiers shall, for the purposes of this Part of this Act, be treated as occupying the premises, subject as follows:
(a) In the case of the occupation of business premises the aggregate yearly value of the premises must for the purpose of the Parliamentary franchise be not less than the amount produced by multiplying ten pounds by the number of the joint occupiers; and
(b) For the purpose of the Parliamentary franchise in a Parliamentary county constituency, and for the purpose of the local government franchise, not more than two joint occupiers shall be entitled to be registered in respect of the same land or premises, unless they are bona fide engaged as partners carrying on their profession, trade or business on the land or premises.
§ "(2) Residence in a house or the occupation of a house shall not be deemed to be interrupted for the purposes of this Act by reason only of permission being given by letting or otherwise for the occupation of the house as a furnished house by some other person for part of the qualifying period not exceeding four months in the whole, or by reason only of notice to quit being served and possession being demanded by the landlord of the house."—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
I observe that Lord Harris, who has an Amendment down on this new clause, is not here. I have not an Amendment on the Paper to 671 this clause, but I should like to ask the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill a question in reference to lines 10 and 11, beginning with the first line in paragraph (b). The, words are "For the purpose of the Parliamentary franchise in a Parliamentary county constituency, and for the purpose of the local government franchise." It then goes on—"not more than two joint occupiers." I venture to ask the noble Viscount whether he feels bound to retain these words. They appeal to make a distinction between town and country, for which there seems to be no case as far as I can see in principle, and I ask the noble Viscount whether there is any reason why these words of limitation should remain. I know that there is one answer that may be given. I believe that it is the law at present, and I think also that I am right in saying that the Report of the Speaker's Conference under this head recommended that there should be no alteration in the law. One has no means of knowing whether or not that Conference really considered this particular point of the difference between town and country. I should like to know whether the noble Viscount would be good enough to consider between now and the Report stage whether these words might not go out. I will put down an Amendment to that effect if he will be so good as to consider it before that stage.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
No, not so far as that. I think that it would affect the first three lines of paragraph (b).
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I should go further and suggest the omission of the whole of paragraph (b), for I cannot see what is the reason for making a distinction between the town and the country.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Certainly. But apparently the noble Viscount thinks that it is less than that.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I did not say that. All I suggested was that in order to carry out the Amendment indicated by the noble Lord it would not be necessary to leave out the whole of paragraph (b) but only the first two and a-half lines.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
What is the use, then, of not more than two joint occupiers being entitled to be registered?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The words apply generally, because, I presume, the noble Earl would wish to limit the number of joint occupiers who could be registered in respect of the same land or premises. We discussed the question of the multiplication of votes, and it is obvious that if you are not careful you might have faggot voting to an almost stupendous extent.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
If these words were struck out no difference would be made, and that was the Amendment suggested by the noble Lord which I said that I would consider on Report.
If the two lines were cut out we might then have, in the case of business premises that were of the value of £100 a year, ten joint occupiers registered; but when it is a question of land, in the case say of a farm of £100 a year, you can have only two people registered for it, so that there is a difference between business premises and land. Any multiple of £10 could be registered for business premises, but only two for land.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think the noble Lord is right in his interpretation, because paragraph (a) refers to the business vote.
In the case of a shop of the value of from £70 to £80 a year with six partners almost all those partners 673 would get the vote, while in the case of a farm occupied by three brothers only two of them would get the vote.
§ LORD BURNHAM moved to amend Viscount; Peel's proposed new clause by inserting, after the word "partners" in paragraph (b), the words "or as managing directors in the case of limited liability companies." The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Gainford, who is unable to be here to-day, asked me to move the Amendment that stands in his name. Undoubtedly this is an omission in the Bill as it is an omission from the Speaker's Conference Report. The proposal is that managing directors in the case of limited liability companies, as well as the partners in business firms, should have the vote. The Speaker's Conference Report gave what amounted to a business employer's qualification in addition to the residential vote, but of late years a great number of trading concerns have been converted into limited liability companies, and therefore perhaps in the case of the biggest and most important, where it is most desirable that the acting head should exercise the political franchise, it would be impossible for him to do so by reason of his firm not being a private one. This will not be a very large matter so far as the numbers of the electors go, but it is very important from the social and industrial point of view. In a Division the managing director of a limited liability company, like the head of a private firm in past times, may exercise vast powers in the employment of labour, and it is not desirable that his interests politically should be absolutely cut off from the locality or constituency in which those interests lie. I think that it is not in the interests of the men themselves that that should be so. They would probably prefer that he should have a direct claim upon their representative. It is in the interest of the employee as much as of the employer that the managing director of a limited liability company, the active partner of the business concerned, should have the 674 vote. I have no reason to believe that it would be objected to by those who were most insistent upon the widest possible extension of the franchise to men, and I think from the point of view of the social and industrial interests of the country it would be a distinct improvement.
Amendment moved to the proposed new clause—
After the word ("partners") in line 15, insert the words ("or as managing directors in the case of limited liability companies".)—(Lord Burnham.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
This question of representation of limited companies was moved in a more extended form in another place. The proposal here is rather curiously limited. My clause says that not more than two joint occupiers shall be entitled to be registered in respect of the same land or premises unless they are bona fide engaged as partners carrying on their profession; and the noble Lord wishes to add the words "or managing directors in the case of limited liability companies." Thus he is taking a very limited case; that is to say, the case of the managing directors where there are more than two who are joint occupiers. I personally am not very familiar with cases where there are such a large number of managing directors. Moreover I think the noble Lord will see that, in the case of a company, the managing directors are not occupiers.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Very well; but I must address myself to the noble Lord in his vicarious position. As I say, these managing directors are not occupiers; therefore really the suggestion of the Amendment is that a totally new franchise should be invented in the case of limited companies, which would be adding a fourth franchise to the three which are set up by the Bill. I am, of course, exceedingly well aware of the difficulties that arise, especially in local government, from so much property being held by limited companies, but I think the noble Lord will see, first of all, that if this Amendment was passed there could hardly be any cases to which it would apply, and if it is going to apply to very few cases indeed it seems to be hardly worth while to create an entirely new franchise for that purpose. Therefore I must oppose the Amendment.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It is rather a technical and difficult point that is raised in this Amendment, and it brings out in another form the difficulty mentioned by Lord Muir Mackenzie and Lord Camper-down of dealing with premises, which really, I understand, means "business in" premises, in the same subsection. I think this paragraph (b) does want amendment and consideration, and if the noble Viscount would consider this point, as well as the others, and some one would put down an Amendment to the whole of paragraph (b) before the Report stage, I think that would be satisfactory. I do not think there is any difference in principle between the noble Viscount (Lord Peel) and myself, but I think there should be further consideration of the wording on the Report stage.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think my noble and learned friend will see that in the case of companies having premises the directors are not really occupiers.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
So that the proposed provision would be entirely out of place in a clause which begins by dealing with the case of joint occupiers, and to introduce it would be a novelty of a somewhat startling kind.
§ LORD BURNHAM
Will the noble Viscount consider before the Report stage whether it is possible for the managing director to have the same vote as the business partner now has?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not like to say I will consider it, if that would import that I thought it was possible to create under the Bill a new franchise. Subject to that reservation I am ready to consider it.
§ Amendment to the proposed new clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
I have a point to raise with regard to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause. It will be within the recollection of the House that when this was under discussion last week in its original form, the noble Marquess opposite expressed some apprehension as to the effect of giving a particular instance of an interruption of the residence—namely, the case of letting. The noble Marquess 676 seemed to think that, by expressing this, perhaps other cases of interruption would not come under consideration, or might be excluded. The noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) then said he thought there was no ground for those fears.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
What I said was that I did not think it would have the effect, which was apprehended, of making the residence interrupted, merely because this one case of letting was mentioned, and not others.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
I always feel, of course, that the doctrine of verbal inspiration applies to anything that comes from the Woolsack, and I was therefore very much impressed. The fact is that this particular question will not come before judicial authority, or only in some few cases of appeal, but will be heard by town clerks and others who are registration officers, who will decide these cases in the greater number of instances; and I suggest that on the next stage of the Bill there might be some words introduced which would remove any apprehension that the noble Marquess or others might have, and which would not be open to any objection.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
All we ask is that the noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) should consider the words in Clause 1, which are now referred to in this new clause, so as to prevent the possibility of any error creeping in. He gave it as his opinion, if not from the Woolsack at any rate ex cathedra, that no such possibility of a misinterpretation could arise. To my unfortunate lay mind it did seem that if you mention one exception it had the effect of pro tanto excluding other exceptions.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will look into the matter, and if I find that I said more than I should have said I will attend to it.
§ On Question, proposed new clause agreed to.
§ Clause 7:
§ Right of person registered to vote.
§ 7.—(1) Every person registered as a Parliamentary elector for any constituency shall, while so registered (and in the case of a woman notwithstanding sex or marriage), be entitled to vote at an election of a member to serve in 677 Parliament for that constituency; but a man shall not vote at a general election for more than one constituency for which he is registered by virtue of a residence qualification or for more than one constituency for which he is registered by virtue of other qualifications of whatever kind, and a woman shall not vote at a general election for more than one constituency for which she is registered by virtue of her own or her husband's local government qualification, or for more than one constituency for which she is registered by virtue of any other qualification.
§ (2) A person registered as a local government elector for any local government doctoral area shall while so registered (and in the case of a woman notwithstanding sex or marriage) be entitled to vote at a local government election for that area, but where, for the purposes of election, any such area is divided into more than one ward or electoral division, by whatever name called, it person shall not be entitled to vote for more than one such ward or electoral division.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
My noble friend Lord Gainford intended to move to add, after "kind" in subsection (1), the words "or for more than one constituency within a Parliamentary borough divided into two or more constituencies," but owing to his absence he has asked me to move this Amendment for him. The Amendment is intended to put right what I can only regard as a misunderstanding which has taken place in the other House. One of the objects of the Speaker's Conference was to diminish the amount of plural voting which had previously been possible in our electoral system. I wish myself that they had come to the conclusion of "one man one vote," and had limited it only to cases, or places, of residence. But they have decided that a man having a residence and a business qualification should be entitled to vote for both, when they are not in the same borough. I accept the decision that, in certain circumstances, a man shall have two votes.
The Speaker's Conference assumed—though as we now know wrongly—that proportional representation would form part of the Bill. If the larger towns had been subject to proportional representation it would not have been possible, as it now is under the provisions of the Bill, for a man to vote twice in the same borough—for his residence and for his business qualification. That is a power which does not exist to-day, and which has never existed under any of our franchise laws. I am authorised by some of those who sat on the Speaker's Conference to say that if this were continued in the Bill it would be a breach of their understanding of the Resolutions at which they arrived; and I am sure that it has 678 arisen only from the fact of the omission of proportional representation from the Bill. I propose to assume that proportional representation will not ultimately obtain any admission into this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament, and therefore it is necessary to deal with this point now.
There was a discussion in the other House upon this matter, and I would like to point out that the representative of the Government, Mr. Hayes Fisher, treated it as absurd that such a provision as this should remain in the Bill in the absence of proportional representation. Mr. Hayes Fisher said—My right hon. friend's Amendment would go too far, because a man would be able to vote in more than one division of a Parliamentary borough provided it has separate constituencies, even though that borough were divided into only two separate constituencies.He went on to say—As the clause stands now a man may have, and does have, and justly has, a vote for his residence, say, in Islington, and a vote for his business premises, say, in the City of London; but he cannot have a vote for his residence in one division of Islington and another vote for his business premises in another division of Islington. If you are not going to accept some such Amendment, undoubtedly the House would be giving its adhesion to a considerable augmentation of the present plural voting power.That is what I and those who hold my view as to the intention of the Speaker's Conference wish to avoid. Mr. Hayes Fisher, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, fully expressed the opinions which I hold, and which I imagine are the views of the Government for which he spoke; and those views will be adequately met by the Amendment which I beg to move on behalf of Lord Gainford.
Page 6, line 18, after ("kind") insert ("or for more than one constituency within a Parliamentary borough divided into two or more constituencies").—(Viscount Harcourt.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Viscount who has just sat down is, as we know, a champion of "one man one vote," and he thinks that a man should not have more than that.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
A good many people hold that plural voting should be permitted; and, at the Speaker's Conference, a compromise was arrived at which resulted 679 in a man having a second vote for business premises. This point must be regarded, therefore, from the point of view of a compromise. I think that the noble Viscount has misstated what was arrived at in the Speaker's Conference. Lord Harcourt said that a man was not to have a second vote in the same borough, and I think he attributed that to the Speaker's Conference.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
I did say that, and I meant it; because at the Speaker's Conference many of the large boroughs were under proportional representation and would be single constituencies. Under a proposal of the Speaker's Conference no man would be able to vote twice inside the twelve divisions of Birmingham, or inside the fifteen divisions of Glasgow, because, under proportional representation, they would be one constituency.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am afraid that the noble Viscount is not right upon that; but I am very glad to have drawn the statement from him because it is fuller than he previously suggested. I propose to read to the House now the actual words of the Speaker's Conference which will show that the noble Viscount was wrong in his contention. The, words are—Provided that a person shall be entitled to one additional vote in another constituency in respect of the occupation of his business premises, or in respect of any qualification he may have as a University voter.The words are, "in another constituency." There is not a single word to show that this constituency must or must not be in the same borough. The words are absolutely clear and without any limitation at all.
Before I deal with that more fully, may I point out what will be the effect of the Amendment if it is passed. For some years I was Member for one of the divisions of Manchester, and the business people in that city, when they became rich, used to go to reside outside the constituency, but they kept their business vote in the constituency. On the other hand, the people who did not get so rich very often lived in the same constituency as that in which their business premises were situated. The effect of the noble Viscount's suggestion would be to disfranchise the poorer people and give this vote only to the richer people. I have always understood that 680 Lord Harcourt was a man of rather democratic tendencies, and I am surprised to find that he ranges himself so deliberately on the side of the plutocrats.
I will deal now with the further contention of the noble Viscount. He says that if the proportional representation proposals were carried the number of constituencies in a borough would be limited. That is true. And, no doubt, as an incidental result of that limitation of constituencies in the large boroughs, certain persons might lose that second vote. But on the face of the document itself there is not a word to show that there is any necessary connection, but merely an incidental connection at the highest, between those two propositions. Lord Harcourt quotes some impressions of friends of his who were on the Conference. May I remind your Lordships of the old rule of interpretation in the Law Courts that you must consider what a document is, and not what a lot of people said about it in the House of Commons. The document has to be regarded by itself, and you have to interpret it as best you can.
Again, the noble Viscount is quite wrong, if I may say so, in suggesting that, in the Speaker's Conference, places like Glasgow and Manchester were to be one borough and one constituency. On the contrary, they were to be divided into several constituencies with three, four, or five Members. Therefore, taking the Speaker's Conference at the highest, you would have Manchester or Glasgow divided into three or four constituencies. If the Amendment of the noble Viscount were accepted you would go far beyond anything in the Speaker's Conference and you would say to a man, "If you have one vote in one of the three of four of these constituencies, you cannot exercise your vote in any other constituency." I hope that, on the principle of the case, your Lordships will not allow this vote—which has been already very much cut down at the Conference—to be further cut down by the energies of the noble Viscount, who is himself a pronounced advocate of "one man, one vote."
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I imagine that your Lordships will not necessarily treat the conclusions of the Speaker's Conference as sacrosanct and incapable of dispute, because, of course, in two material matters they have been already challenged and departed from. But it does appear to me, 681 nevertheless, that the noble Viscount has not shown that the Report of the Speaker's Conference does not bear the interpretation which the noble Viscount who moved the Amendment has put upon it. Although it may well be that the words which are used with reference to this matter do not on their face bear the interpretation that this form of plural vote should be excluded, yet your Lordships must bear in mind the fact that the plural voting which was accepted by a number of people who, like the noble Viscount and myself, have always objected to it, was accepted as part of a scheme which included proportional representation, and the inclusion of proportional representation, as the noble Viscount has admitted, would of necessity have limited the application of the particular form of plural voting which this Amendment is intended to modify. I say it is impossible to take one clause of the resolutions and look at it alone. If the Speaker's Conference is taken as guiding or influencing deliberations in this House at all, I ask you to say that the Speaker's Conference has dealt with this matter by two propositions. First of all, that you should have proportional representation in certain areas; secondly, that plural voting should obtain as a system existing side by side with proportional representation; and, therefore, if you have taken out proportional representation you have removed the whole of the balance on which plural voting is retained. I submit that the Amendment should be accepted.
§ LORD BURNHAM
There is no ground for suggesting that at the Speaker's Conference any such arrangement as the noble Viscount (Lord Harcourt) stated was accepted. As a matter of fact, the second vote given for business premises and on the ground of occupation was an exchange and bargain for the residential vote for general purposes, and it was adopted before the question of proportional representation was even considered. It is quite true, as the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down said, that all the conclusions were submitted as a composite whole at the end, but it was never suggested to the Conference that there was any relation or connection between this second vote, which was given for quite other reasons, and proportional representation. On the contrary, it was admitted by the Labour Members there that it was a very great sacrifice for the owners to give up the owner- 682 ship vote, carrying with it, of course, the plural vote, which had existed for so many centuries, and that it was not much to obtain in exchange the business qualification given in this clause.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
With regard to what my noble and learned friend opposite has said, I submit that the words of the eleventh resolution are absolutely clear—A person shall be entitled to one additional vote in another constituency in respect of the occupation of his business premises.And then it defines the expression "constituency" as including a county or borough divided for the purpose of Parliamentary elections which means "a division of the county or borough so divided." Nothing can be more absolutely clear, and I cannot understand the doctrine that some gloss is to be put upon that with reference to the fact that proportional representation was in the resolutions of the Speaker's Conference. I have no recollection on the point myself, although I think I was still a member of the Conference at that time; but if the noble Lord who has just spoken was right in saying that it was afterwards that proportional representation was introduced, it is quite clear there can be no relation between the two things. This is a distinct provision that where there is more than one constituency in a county or borough they are to be separate for the purpose of the second vote. I submit that it would be a dangerous principle to say that you are to modify and explain, where the resolutions are perfectly clear, on the suggestion that they must have had some relation to something which was not in the resolutions at the time but which appears afterwards.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not desire to put any gloss upon it. My proposition is a perfectly simple one, that the effect of the resolution of the Conference is to limit the area to which plural voting is applicable, and I have never attempted to gloss or escape from the effect of the words which the Lord Chancellor has read. I have stated, and I submit that it is quite plain, that when you have proportional representation and plural voting side by side proportional representation limits the area to which plural voting applies.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
Perhaps before the question is put I might be allowed to 683 read from Mr. Hayes Fisher's description, on behalf of the Government, of what he believed was the meaning of the Speaker's Conference. It was on the debate on this particular point in the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
I think the Committee stage. It was on June 26. Mr. Hayes Fisher said:—The Speaker's Conference came to the conclusion that it did not desire to shut out an additional vote for business promises, and it deliberately allowed a vote for residence and a vote for business premises. But at the same time, when it came to consider the question of great areas like London and other large towns—but most particularly London—it said, 'Yes, we will allow that amount of plural voting for your residence and for your business occupation, but we intend that London shall adopt a system of proportional representation.' And if the system of proportional representation had been adopted, this question never could have arisen as to whether a plural vote should be exercised in a division of a Parliamentary borough. That is the whole question. There is no desire to disturb the decision of the Speaker's Conference, that a vote shall be accorded to one particular person for his residence and to that same person for his business qualification, provided that it is in a different constituency, and that constituency is not a part of the same Parliamentary borough.
Before the question is put, I should like to ask the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill a question. I do not see in the words of this clause that there is any prohibition of a man who is registered in one constituency for his residential vote, and also has a business qualification in the same constituency, from voting twice in the same constituency. All I see is that he is only to vote in one constituency by virtue of his residential qualification, and only to vote in another by virtue of some other qualification, but it does not say it must be a separate constituency.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to add at the end of subsection (2) the following proviso: "Provided that nothing in this provision shall prevent a person voting at an election to fill a casual vacancy except where the casual vacancy is in a borough council not being a metropolitan borouah council." 684 The noble Viscount said: This proposal makes no change in the law. Some doubt has arisen as to whether a man could vote at a by-election, and this Amendment is inserted to make it quite clear that he can do so in these particular cases.
Page 6, line 30, at end to add: "Provided that nothing in this provision shall prevent a person voting at an election to fill a casual vacancy except where the casual vacancy is in a borough council not being a metropolitan borough council").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
No doubt the intention is admirable, but I wish to ask whether it is not possible before Report so to draft the provision as to make it possible of being understood. The real thing is this. You begin by a definite statement as to a person being entitled to vote. Then you get that qualified that he is not entitled to vote, and upon that negative you get a further provision that enables him under certain conditions to vote. Is it not possible to make it quite plain and show when he can vote and why he can vote? I admit that my mind is so constructed that when I have to consider first a definite proposition, and then a negative, and then an exclusion on the negative. I find myself in a state of bewilderment.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Although a humble layman—perhaps with all the more reason because of that fact—I confess that the clause passes my comprehension altogether.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Why should it be necessary to say that a man registered for a local government area is entitled to be registered for the local government area? I should have thought that followed as a matter of course.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.685
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to add a new subsection. The noble Viscount said: I propose to insert the words in my next Amendment in order to meet doubts that have arisen in certain minds. Noble Lords are aware, of course, of the different qualifications—residence and business qualifications, and the University qualification—but it has been suggested by ingenious persons that Clause 5 might possibly be held to create a new qualification in respect of naval and military voters. Of course, the intention of that clause is that the naval and military voter should obtain a qualification only in respect of one of the existing claims which I have enumerated, and in order to make it quite clear that Clause 5 does not create a fourth qualification I beg to move that these words be inserted.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 6, line 30, at end insert as a new subsection:
(3) A naval or military voter who is registered in respect of a qualification which he would have had but for his service shall be deemed for the purpose of this section to be registered by virtue of that qualification."—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 8
§ Provision as to disqualifications.
§ 8.—(1) A person shall not be disqualified from being registered or from voting as a Parliamentary or local government elector by reason that he or some person for whose maintenance he is responsible has received poor relief or other alms.
§ (2) Any person who has been exempted from all military service (including non-combatant service) on the ground of conscientious objection, or who, having been convicted by court-martial of an offence against military law, and having represented that the offence was the result of conscientious objection to military service, has been awarded imprisonment in lieu of detention, shall be disqualified during the continuance of the war and a period of five years thereafter from being registered or voting as a Parliamentary or local government elector:
§ Provided that this disqualification shall not apply to any parson who, within one year after the termination of the war, proves to the central tribunal, as established for the purpose of the Military Service Act, 1916, that he had during the continuance of the war taken up either—
- (1) service as a member of any of the naval or military forces of the Crown on full pay; or
- (2) service in connection with the war of a naval or military character for which payment is made out of money provided by Parliament; or
- (3) service afloat or abroad in connection with the war in any work of the British Red Cross Society, or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England, or any other body with a similar object; or
- (4) that having been exempted from military service on condition of doing work of national importance, he has done such work in accordance with the decision and to the satisfaction of the appropriate tribunal or authority;
§ Provided also that no woman shall be disqualified from being registered or voting as a Parliamentary or local government elector by reason of any disqualification imposed upon her husband by this section.
§ (3) A person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector if he is not a British subject, and nothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided therein, confer on any person who is subject to any legal incapacity to be registered or to vote either as a Parliamentary or local government elector any right to be so registered or to vote.
§ (4) A person shall not be disqualified from voting at any election us a Parliamentary or local government elector by reason that he is legally employed for payment by or on behalf of a candidate at any Parliamentary or local government election.
§ THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN moved to omit from subsection (1) the words "or local government." The noble Earl said: As Clause 8 stands in the Bill it says that a person shall not be disqualified from being registered or from voting as a Parliamentary or local government elector by reason that he has received Poor Law relief. I have to remark that the clause is absolutely contradictory to what the Bill said when it was introduced into the House of Commons. In the Bill as introduced it was provided that a person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector if he has received for thirty days or more during the qualifying period Poor Law relief. How the clause as it now stands got into the Bill I do not exactly know, but it gives both a Parliamentary and local government vote to a pauper. With regard to the Parliamentary vote I do not propose to say anything. I do not think myself that a pauper ought to have a Parliamentary vote, but that is merely a matter of opinion. With regard to local government, I say distinctly that a pauper ought not to have a local govern- 687 ment vote. Just think what will happen. A pauper receives his relief from the ratepayers, and the Bill now proposes that he is to have a vote for the election of the guardians from whom he is to obtain relief. I do not know what can be said in favour of that proposal, and I venture to ask your Lordships to omit these words from the Bill.
Page 6, line 32, leave out ("or local government").—(The Earl of Camperdown.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The Amendment of the noble Earl, simple as it looks, introduces rather wide considerations. I understand that his object is not to allow a man to vote for the election of Poor Law guardians because he may be receiving money from them, and he argues that, therefore, he ought not to assist in electing persons who may be disbursing relief to him. That, I understand, is his broad ground. The first point I wish to observe is that the Amendment goes much further than that, because it is going to apply the disqualification not only to electors for guardians, but also to electors for county councils (who do not deal with Poor Law) and also to electors for parish councils, and even for district councils as well. Therefore, in basing his argument upon the Poor Law disqualification, the noble Earl was really not doing justice to his own Amendment, which is of far wider extent than that.
The second point I want to dwell upon is this. It is quite true that in the Bill as introduced there was a disqualification in respect of a man who for more than thirty days was in receipt of Poor Law relief, other than medical relief. The noble Earl is not going back to that, which he seemed to regard as the proper thing. He is striking that out and going back to the old law of 1832, modified by the Poor Law (Medical Relief Disqualification) Act, so that he is really going to leave the law as it is. Generally speaking, that is that a man is disqualified if he has received Poor Law relief other than medical relief. I should rather like to refer the Committee to what took place on this in the House of Commons.
I think it has a bearing on the subject. In the Report stage the Home Secretary moved an Amendment which would disqualify local government voters maintained 688 as inmates for thirty days during the qualifying period in Poor Law or other institutions, but saving the rights of the wives. This Amendment was not accepted by the House, which ultimately decided to extend the omission of the Poor Law disqualification to all local government electors. The Bill was, therefore, made far wider than it was before; but there was this limitation, that a man or woman was not to obtain a qualification—and this was inserted in a later clause in the Bill—from residence in a Poor Law institution. That meant, of course, that they might retain their old residence qualification if they kept their homes while they were in the Poor Law institutions, but if they went into it and left their homes they would be disqualified. That is at present the only disqualification in the Bill. The Committee really has to consider what is the exact amount of Poor Law disqualification which prevents a man from voting for local government.
Public relief and assistance takes many and very wide forms, and the principle of the noble Earl, if applied, would go much wider. For instance, there are the old-age pensioners who are not deprived of their vote. They might vote for doubling their pensions; yet no one has suggested that their votes should be taken away. I agree that that is on a larger scale than the rather smaller areas like the Poor Law area, where the effect is much greater. But there are other kinds of public assistance which certainly do not disqualify. I would like the Committee to consider whether it is worth while, having removed such an immense number of disqualifications of this kind, keeping this particular disqualification in the case of the local government voter. However keenly the noble Earl may feel about his Amendment, I am sure he will realise the points I have already mentioned; that it goes far wider than I think he apparently intended in his speech, and goes back to the old, and severer, disqualification of the Poor Law elector. Possibly on the whole, after considering the matter, the Committee may come to the conclusion that it is not worth while making any change in the Bill as it stands at present.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
The noble Viscount who has just spoken began by giving us what professed to be a description of what occured in the House of Commons, but, unless I am entirely mistaken in my 689 recollection of it, the description was very far from all that occurred in the House of Commons. If I am right, the matter was debated at considerably length on the first day. At that time the Home Secretary replied that it was quite impossible to accept the Amendment, and he stoutly refused it. It was debated all night; and on the second day, for no adequate reason whatever that I can remember, he gave way, and the Amendment was accepted. I should be very glad if the noble Viscount can give us a little further description, and also the reasons for which the Home, Secretary accepted an Amendment which he had refused for the whole of the previous day on the ground that it was one that could not possibly he accepted.
There is one point to which I think the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill has not referred. He alluded to the fact that a pauper could not get qualification while he was residing in the workhouse, but he omitted to state the natural consequence of that, which is the encouragement for all paupers, and a good many others, to agitate in the elections for boards of guardians for more outdoor relief. It practically comes to opening the door to a form of bribery, and saying: "If you will encourage outdoor relief on a larger scale, you will have the votes of a good many paupers and many who are likely to become paupers." That is a dangerous point to introduce into local government questions indirect bribery—and I should like to know whether the noble Viscount would be prepared, on behalf of the Government, to go back to the thirty days which was originally given in the Speaker's Conference.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think the noble Viscount rather exaggerated the effect of the Amendment. The omission of these words would not in any way affect the special qualifications which have been given in a large, number of cases, such as medical assistance and matters of that kind, in respect of which there is no disqualification as regards voting power. Therefore I hope the noble Viscount will bear in mind that this Amendment will not take away any qualifications which any one possesses at the present time. I am sure he will agree that the Amendment will not affect these special qualifications which now exist in regard to those who have assistance from public funds. It really comes to the point which the noble Viscount, Lord 690 Galway, stated—Are you going to give a qualification which will enable the recipients of Poor Law relief to vote at the election of guardians? In substance it only comes to that. I cordially support the views of the noble Earl.
§ THIS MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I venture to hope that the Government will give way on this point. The principle of the Bill, prima facie, is that no one should be a voter for local government purposes who is not a direct or a prospective ratepayer. These men, instead of being ratepayers, are just the other way; they are rate receivers. The boot is on the other leg; and they are not persons within the conception of the Bill at all. Then there is the more direct reason, referred to by the noble Viscount opposite, that this will be, or may be, a most fertile source of corruption. It is quite evident that a man might go to a prospective candidate for the Board of Guardians, and say, "Look here, if I vote for you this time you will please remember it when it conies to the question of outdoor relief for me." It is perfectly obvious that it opens the widest door to corruption, and I am sure my noble friend must agree that to give paupers who are actually in receipt of assistance, from the rates the right of voting for those who grant them the money is the most extraordinary proceeding that could be imagined.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
I should like to join in the appeal which has been made on this subject. It seems to me that we are making a serious and grave departure from sound principles, and I cannot understand how it was that the House of Commons came to depart from them. I am consoled by the reflection that the House of Commons changed its mind two or three times on the question, and I hope they will be grateful to us for giving them an opportunity of recurring to their proper mind. As to what has been said by the noble Marquess and by the noble Earl, it is wrong of us to give a man, who is going to exercise the duty of a voter, a strong personal and selfish interest, not for choosing the best man, but for choosing the man from whom he expects to get the greatest amount of pecuniary benefit for himself. We give a bad motive to the candidate, because we are inducing him to be lavish with the ratepayers' money, and we give a bad motive to the voter because we are substituting for his sense of duty his sense of personal interest.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I think the discussion, so far, has overlooked what certainly was in the minds of a great many people, and certainly was in my own mind. It assumes that the present system of Poor Law relief is going to continue as a separate form of public assistance, earmarked to be in the hands of the guardians. In view of the conclusions come to by the Royal Commission which investigated Poor Law relief, I think nothing is more plain than that this very great and unsatisfactory system, under which the Poor Law relief is administered by a separate authority, is going to disappear. That I am sure was in the minds of a great many people who did not desire to stereotype the present state of things. In my view I think that in no very short time such forms of assistance will come from some other authority, which obviously will be some statutory committee of the councils. The whole tendency of public opinion is that way, and if we alter the Bill we go back on what was in the mind of a great many people and we continue to stereotype the present very unsatisfactory state of things. For my part, I think the matter is really much less important than it is made out to be. Paupers are a very small portion of the electors. I am most anxious to see the country progress, and to see a better system of public assistance, under which it would be not only out of place but wrong to make this disqualification of the pauper.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think that I have done my best for the particular provision in the Bill. I quite follow the argument of the noble Viscount that the business of Poor Law relief may be moved away from the guardians. I know that that has been suggested on many occasions.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am in some difficulty as to what the Committee precisely want. I understand that they wish to limit the disqualification to the election of Poor Law guardians.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I thought that the whole discussion had turned upon the wrongfulness of persons who were having Poor Law relief voting for the election of Poor Law guardians. I have heard no 692 argument at all as regards county councils, town councils, or parish councils. I do not know whether the noble Lords wish to address themselves to that side of the question as well. The second point is this. Do noble Lords want to go back to the old disqualification of 1832, or do they want to go back to the thirty days which was in the Bill as introduced? I do not know whether the Committee would allow me on Report to bring up an Amendment which would meet the particular case, and in the meantime perhaps the noble Earl would not press his Amendment in its present form. The Committee will see that the Amendment is very much wider than the discussion has been. The discussion has been purely upon the question of boards of guardians.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD PARMOOR moved to leave out subsection (2). The noble and learned Lord said: I will move this Amendment as shortly as possible, but I am afraid it will take more time than an ordinary Amendment. Its object is to get rid of the only disfranchising clause which there is in this Bill—a Bill intended to enlarge and extend the franchise qualifications. This subsection was not in the Bill as originally introduced. I think, as a matter of fact, that it was not introduced until the Report stage in the other House. It was then introduced by a comparatively small majority—209 to 171. The acceptance of my Amendment does not in any way go to the principle of the Bill, but to what I think is a subsection, which ought not to be introduced. I think that this subsection is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of representative government, because it attempts to disqualify or disfranchise certain individuals merely because they hold unpopular opinions for the time being. In old days that was common enough. It created some of the greatest friction between religious bodies in this country, but as far as I know for more than a century or a century and a-half no such suggestion has been made.
§ I hope to show to your Lordships that in this case, when we come to consider the actual terms of the disqualification, there can be no justification for it whatever. You introduce a principle which I 693 consider wholly bad—namely, that of disqualifying persons because they hold unpopular opinions. If your Lordships will look at the clause you will see what the actual terms are. The first persons who are proposed to be disqualified are those who have been exempted from all military service, including non-combatant service, on the ground of conscientious objection. I am not now discussing whether the principles adopted in the Military Service Act were right or not. Who is the person it is proposed to disqualify? He is a man who, under the Legislature's own action in the Military Service Act, was entitled to apply for exemption from conscription and was found to be a person who had a genuine objection, and who, therefore, established his claim to exemption. Consider what the position of that person is. He has done nothing illegal; he has really done what the Legislature said he was entitled to do. Certainly there is no question of his having done anything criminal. Therefore I ask, on what possible principle we can seek to disqualify a voter in this country who has really done what the Legislature has said he may do? He has done it in the proper and regularised manner, and therefore has not acted illegally and certainly in no way in a criminal spirit.
§ Let me contrast with this the persons who would have the vote. I will take a man whom I should look upon as a scoundrelly hypocrite, if I may use that expression—namely, the man who wanted to get exemption but was found not to be entitled to it. That is not a man of honest conviction; he is a man of dishonest conviction, who tried to make use of an exemption to which he was not entitled. That man will, of course, have the vote. Let me take another illustration; because the only charge against this person is that he is not subject to the conscription law. Take the case of the Irish rebels—I do not want to mention names—who have been convicted as rebels. We know that there is no conscription in Ireland, and a convicted rebel therefore who has never been subject to conscription will have the vote, whereas the genuine conscientious objector who has been relieved by Parliament under the Act of the Legislature will be deprived of his vote. Is that a proper distinction to make?
§ I will take another illustration. Every forger, thief, blackmailer, and man who engages in the white slave traffic will have 694 the vote under the Bill as it stands. What is the reason why, in these circumstances, you seek to disqualify the man whose only reason for disqualification is that he had an honest conviction and was found to have it? I ask your Lordships how you can possibly justify a disqualification of that kind? Only the other day, quite rightly in my opinion, the woman franchise was given in this House, but women are not subject to conscription, and ministers of religion are not subject to conscription. Here you have a man who has only taken advantage of a right which the Legislature has given him. How can you in these circumstances justify his disqualification? I will say a word or two on that later, but on principle, when you allow matters of opinion to be reintroduced as a matter of disqualification you get the worst possible precedent.
Let me on that point read what was said by the Home Secretary. I will ask your Lordships to entirely agree with this. He was saying that he could not vote for an Amendment which would introduce this form of disqualification, and he said—
I cannot, however, get rid of the opinion which I have expressed before, that when you have by Statute, whether wisely or unwisely, permitted a man to claim exemption before a Tribunal from military service, you cannot a little more than a year afterwards impose upon him a legal liability, however slight, for taking advantage of his statutory rights. The Act was passed in 1916 and it has become law. For that reason I cannot vote for the Amendment.
[...]the Amendment on that occasion being the introduction of a disqualifying clause. Now, if we leave the region of mere prejudice, what possible answer is there to that? Members of this House or the other House have their own views as to what ought to have been introduced into the Military Service Act, but now we have to deal with it as a Statute; and what possible answer is there to what the Home Secretary said—that if by Statute you have given a right to exemption, and an individual has been found by the proper Tribunal entitled to that right, there is no ground whatever for disqualifying him from voting.
One argument further on this point, because it is included in what was said by the Home Secretary. This disqualification has all the worst features of what is called retrospective legislation; in other words, you have allowed a man to claim exemption subject to the incurring of penalties and I have never objected
to certain penalties myself. But when he has exercised his right, according to the terms of the Legislature, you introduce retrospectively a new disqualification for what he has done. Of course, if you introduce that principle of retrospective penalties, it may go very wide. In what is called a democratic time it is, I think, most dangerous, because it has been one of the evils of democracy that they have attempted to ostracise, or proscribe, or disqualify persons for mere matters of opinion. Will you look at the second part of the disqualification, which does not depend on exactly the same principle? It applies to a man—
who, having been convicted by court-martial of an offence against military law, and having represented that the offence was the result of conscientious objection to military service, has been awarded imprisonment in lieu of detention.
What does that mean? I admit that if you are introducing a disqualification attaching to all persons who had been convicted by court-martial that would be an intelligible principle, but that is not what is suggested. You apply this disqualification only to persons who have been awarded imprisonment in lieu of detention. Your Lordships may recollect what that means. I think I was one of those who raised in this House the question of the treatment of conscientious objectors. It was at the time when the noble Earl, Lord Kitchener, represented the War Office in this House. Lord Kitchener first of all stated that "the Army Council have power to deal with the matter." That is, no doubt, true. Then he said—mark these words—"the genuine conscientious objectors will find themselves under the civil power"; and, in order that the genuine conscientious objectors should find themselves under the civil power imprisonment was imposed in place of detention, because that was necessary having regard to the Army Regulations. Therefore, the second disqualification here is imposed because men have taken advantage of what the Army Council said they might do. If they are not genuine conscientious objectors, they do not come under this disqualification; if they are, you disqualify them. I do not know whether men of honest convictions are so numerous in this country that, where you find men who are certainly honest and genuine, it is right to disqualify them. I beg to say that in my opinion honesty of conviction, although it may lead to appropriate punishment where it comes up against
State regulation, at the same time is not a matter which should disqualify in any Franchise Bill.
§ The next part of the subsection is a sort of conscience clause of the Legislature itself. Having introduced a principle which no one can sustain, they have certain qualms of conscience, and put in four different provisos under which, if they are complied with, the man may be put in a respectable condition and the general evil which may be done might be removed—just as in old days, and I believe now, "conscience money" is sometimes sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These provisos, which are very clumsy and difficult, and which imply the maintenance of a Tribunal which is not suitable to this matter at all, only emphasise the fact that the general principle of the subsection is unsound and untrustworthy. The last proviso is as regards the disqualification of the wife. In the admirable speech of the noble Viscount (Lord Peel) I think there was one point where he dropped below the high level of his tone, and that was where he suggested that to be the wife, of a man of honest conviction was such a punishment to the wife that—
§ LORD PARMOOR
I quite assent. But let me protest against this provision as it stands in the Bill. Take the case of a Quakeress—and that applies to a good many of these wives. Is she likely to be ashamed because her husband has adopted the principles for which the Quakers have fought and suffered for two or three centuries? I think that, whatever one may feel about these matters, that suggestion is an ignoble one.
I am well aware that underneath there is the prejudice which, I quite agree, does exist against the conscientious objector. I dare say many of you have read what Lord Hugh Cecil said in his memorable speech. I have always taken a different view—I do not say a lower view. I dislike, and I believe we all dislike, Government action 697 in matters of conscience and seeking to coerce citizens in matters of conscience, but if the Government determine to do so the man who wants to uphold his honest conviction must take the consequence. I have said before in this House, and I say again that the consequence ought to be appropriate to the offence. He has to take his punishment like a man. When I say that, I think that your Lordships will believe in everybody drawing a distinction, and drawing it in broad lines, when it comes to matters of right or wrong. When an individual has before him the choice between what he believes to be right and what he knows to be wrong, and he chooses what he believes to be right, he may be subject to penalties and punishments, but I Hay that he is not a man whom, under any principle, you ought to disqualify in regard to voting power.
I would like to read to the House what was once said by a great soldier, Lord Roberts. Nobody will suppose that Lord Roberts did not take what I may call a strict military view, and he said these words with regard to discipline in the Army, which is a much stronger point than that with which I am now dealing. I hope the House will allow me to read it because it summarises exactly what I myself feel upon this topic. Lord Roberts, speaking in connection with discipline in the Army at the time of the Ulster trouble, said in this House—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 without. The strongest manifestation of this proof lies in what men call conscience—an innate sense of right or wrong which neither reason nor man-made laws can affect.I take that to be perfectly true. I will go a little further in one direction, however, because I believe in the Christian doctrine of giving a religious sanction to conscience, whereas Lord Roberts—who, I believe, would not have differed from that view—put it on the "innate sense of Tight or wrong."
§ LORD PARMOOR
Yes. There was no more religious-minded man than Lord Roberts. So it comes to this—Are you going to disqualify a man from the franchise on cither of these grounds because he 698 refuses to disobey what he regards as the higher law—the religious law—or because, coming to the, best determination he can to draw a distinction between right and wrong, he determines, as an honest and honourable man, to do what is right? I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper.
Page 6, line 35, leave out subsection (2).—(Lord Parmoor.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Your Lordships will, perhaps, allow me to state the effect of this Amendment. Its effect would be to take away the voting disqualification in all cases of conscientious objectors who have been exempted from military service in all forms, whether unconditionally or on condition of obtaining work of national importance. It would also have the effect of doing away with proviso (4) of subsection (2). This was put in for the purpose of applying some test for those who were conditionally exempted from military service by the Tribunals, the condition being that they did some work of national importance; and unless a proviso of that kind were left in there would he no means of testing whether or not they had complied with the determination of the Tribunals.
I also wish to point out that if the Amendment is carried it will have this further effect. Not only will it remove the disqualification in the case of those who have been altogether exempted by the Tribunals, or exempted on condition of doing work of national importance, but it will remove the disqualification from those who came before the Tribunals and pleaded conscientious objection but in whom the Tribunals did not believe.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
"Who has been exempted from all military service…on the ground of conscientious objection." I have dealt with those.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think the interruption was unnecessary, because I was going on to point out that there was an additional class of persons who would be disqualified—that is to say, those who have been convicted by Court-Martial of an offence against military law. I am perfectly right in what I stated. I am not taking any side; I am merely pointing out the fact. These people go and take up military service, and then they are Court-martialled because they do not do their duty.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Yes. My only point, therefore, is that the noble and learned Lord does not give (shall I say?) an accurate account of what takes place under this subsection when he is pleading for the conscientious objectors only, because he would give a vote to those who have been found by the Tribunals not to be conscientious objectors.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The clause refers to those people who have been awarded imprisonment in lieu of detention, and to those only; and I pointed out that this could only be done under Lord Kitchener's Memorandum if they were genuine conscientious objectors.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have given the general effect of the clause. What the noble and learned Lord claims is that those persons, whether they are (shall I say?) true conscientious objectors or not, and persons who have been unwilling not only not to do military service but not to do any of the work that is specified in (1) (2) (3) and (4) of the subsection, including work of national importance—those who have 700 refused to take up any of those alternatives in the day of peril of their country—should be able to vote in the same way as those who have borne the heat and the burden of the day, when it comes to reconstruction, and to deciding how this country is to be built up again after the war in which these people have taken no part. That may be right or it may be wrong; but what I have stated is, I think, a fair summary of the claim of the noble and learned Lord.
It is not my duty on behalf of the Government to enter fully into the different arguments used with regard to this subsection, because it was accepted by the Government as being a decision of the House of Commons; therefore, it is left entirely open in this House. I propose merely to follow the same course as that which was followed by the Home Secretary in the other House—namely, to offer what assistance I can in seeing that the clause is properly drafted. Further than that I do not propose to go, and the matter is one which is left entirely open to the decision of the House.
§ LORD PARKER
Will your Lordships allow me to state how this matter strikes me as a lawyer, because I am not at all happy about the subsection in the Bill as it stands. According to the law of this country, conscience cannot be made a ground of an exception from obedience to the general rules of conduct which the law prescribes, and I think the first time in our history that any exception to this rule was made was when the Conscription Act was passed. That Act, for reasons which I have never considered sufficient, gave a privilege to a certain class of conscientious objectors, and from the moment they gained that privilege they had a legal right; and what strikes me as odd about this Bill is that it imposes a penalty on people who have taken advantage of the legal right or privilege which the law shortly before conferred upon them. That seems to me to be entirely inconsistent with the principles upon which legislation in this country has up till now proceeded. I have myself no sympathy with the conscientious objector. If the laws of the country are not good enough for a person who resides here, he is always at liberty to leave the country, and in my opinion that would be a good thing in the case of people who are not prepared to do their duty in time of war.
701 The second point upon which I am not satisfied is this. I can quite understand the advisability, and in cases the necessity, of disfranchising criminals, but I cannot understand an Act which divides criminals into two classes—criminals because they do what they believe to be right, and criminals who have no sense of right at all—and enfranchises the latter while disfranchisising the former. It seems to me to be an anomaly. We allow a thief or a culpable homicide, and other classes of criminals, to vote as soon as their sentence has expired, without any difficulty; yet because you find there is a class of men in this country who break the law, not from any ill-motive but from conscientious objection, you settle upon that class and award to that particular class a penalty which you do not award in the case of the thief or homicide. That again seems to me to be an anomaly, and I am going to venture to make a suggestion to the Government in both these respects.
Will it not meet all necessities of the case if this clause is modified so as to carry out this suggestion? Let us disfranchise for a period of years everybody who for any crime or misdemeanour or breach of military dscipline has been sentenced to, say, more than three weeks' imprisonment or detention, and let that disfranchisement last as long as you like. That will be a general rule founded upon common sense, and will not draw any invidious distinction between those acting honestly and those acting dishonestly. If we do that we shall hit every conscientious objector who on the alleged ground of his conscience has been detained by a military tribunal or been condemned to imprisonment by a civil tribunal; and we can disfranchise these persons for such period as may be considered necessary. That would be acting on what I consider to be the right principle, and it would not involve the anomalies which I have mentioned, while at the same time it would to a very great extent carry out the purpose of this clause. I venture to hope that the Government will consider my suggestion, and, if necessary, make Amendments on Report.
THE EARL OF MEATH
I hope that His Majesty's Government will seriously consider the proposal which has been made by my noble and learned friend Lord Parker. Like many of your Lordships I 702 have been for some time very unhappy about this question of the treatment of what are called conscientious objectors. There is no one in this House who has a more complete sympathy with real conscientious objectors, upon any subject whatever, than I have; but I lay great stress upon the word "real," and I think we have got into a great deal of trouble owing to the fact that we have so managed our affairs in this matter that there is difficulty in knowing who is really a conscientious objector and who is a man who is simply wanting to advance his own wretched personal interests. I believe it is a fact that as far as those who are in close connection with conscientious objectors are concerned they all agree that there are only about, if so many as, 10 per cent. who really are conscientious objectors. If that is the case, surely it would be a most iniquitous tiling that we should give the other 90 per cent. a vote, when they have done everything they possibly can to get rid of their obligations and rseponsibilities, and to avail themselves of all the advantages of citizenship which the Common Law gives them. It appears to me that if we could come to some arrangement such as that which has been suggested by Lord Parker we might really get out of this trouble with some honour and some sense. I shall therefore say this, that I do most sincerely hope that those who have moved this Amendment will say that if their Amendment should be carried, as I hope it will not be, it shall apply only to the real objectors and nobody else.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
I was about to ash the House not to adopt this Amendment when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker, intervened, and I am bound to say that I think he advanced the only argument which I deem at all formidable in favour of this Amendment. This Amendment was defended here and elsewhere on the ground, first, that the subsection is retrospective, which I hope to show it is not to a greater degree than other provisions of this Bill; and secondly, that it is a penalty, which I hope to show that it is not. It is not more retrospective than many other provisions. The abolition of plural voting is no less retrospective. For years and years Parliament has encouraged people to invest property in the acquisition of plural votes, and now turns round and deprives them of a large portion of that property. The application of the Military 703 Service Acts is retrospective. You apply it, without flinching, to young men, and not to young men alone, who have been born and brought up and who expected to remain under an entirely different system. We have amended the Military Service Acts as we went along, and I submit we have an equally good right to make Amendments and adjustments to meet the case of the objectors.
It is pleaded in favour of this Amendment, as it was pleaded also in favour of unduly lenient treatment of these conscientious objectors, that they acted under a higher moral law. It is not for me to deny that. You cannot get away from the, fact that this claim of the conscientious objector is a claim to live in a theocratic enclave in a democratic state. Although I am perfectly prepared to admit and to bow to the theocratic canon which forbids me to treat the conscientious objector as a criminal—which we are not doing—I am not prepared to admit the existence of any theocratic canon, injunction or command to place a tin box in front of that man and a ballot paper in his hand.
This leads me to examine the next of the fallacies on which I respectfully submit to your Lordships this Amendment is based. It brings me into conflict with the noble and learned Lord, to whose opinion on matters of policy no less than on matters of law this House is, I am sure, willing to render all respect. Is this disfranchisement a penalty at all? I know the conscientious objector does not like disfranchisement. That does not make it a penalty any more than it makes it true to say we are doing this because he holds unpopular opinions. That is not why we are doing it. The House of Commons did this not because he holds unpopular opinions, or because it wished to inflict a penalty, or because it was inflicting a penalty. It was refusing the benefits of a contract to one who is unwilling to shoulder its obligations and disadvantages, to one who, in other words, desires to have it both ways to his own individual advantage. Should noble Lords ask me, Where is that contract? Are you going to ask us to ascend to those ethereal, imaginary heights where resides the Social Contract of the French writers of the eighteenth century?—my reply would be that I have no need to ask you to make any such ascent. The rude shock of war has brought whatever such entity there was down to the prosaic level of objective fact, 704 and has brought you up against the question, whether you like it or not.
After all, what is the fundamental distinction between this disability and a penalty? Is it not the same as the fundamental distinction between the ordinary criminal and the conscientious objector who remains irreconcilable and has brought himself in conflict with the law? Let it be borne in mind that this new privilege of which he is availing himself—the conscientious objectors' section in the Military Service Act—is merely a relief from criminal consequences. The fact that we gave him that indulgence does not disable us or debar us from saying that he shall not enjoy rights which we think upon other grounds he has forfeited. If the case of the Irish rebel be put before me, I think that in regard to the rebel who says he, is a rebel, has been found to be a rebel, and declares he means to remain a rebel there is a great deal to be said for disfranchising him, and I think that probably Parliament would be well advised to disfranchise him. I do not know whether you could or could not do it in this Bill. I mean you would have to assume that he wanted to vote in an English constituency.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
I should support an Amendment to disfranchise a rebel subject to his satisfying the condition which I am going to show the conscientious objector satisfies. What is the case of the ordinary criminal, as to whom the most damaging comparison was made by the noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment? In his case you have, by a long series of legislative and administrative acts, expressly and with great care devised and put in force the expiation which you mean to exact from him. He has suffered and paid the price. He has so behaved that he is entitled to call upon you to infer that he means amendment in his future life.
You are not even entitled in point of law to use the word "felon" as regards him. He is entitled to say to you, "This book is closed; the slate is wiped; and I am a free man." Not even the noble and learned Lord can say that that is inconsistent with the principles of our Common Law.
What is the attitude of the conscientious objector? He, on the contrary, is a man 705 who tells you from the housetops that neither in this war nor in any future war is he going to stand by his country to the extent of suffering for it. No one has a greater respect than I have for those members of the Society of Friends and others who have accepted alternative service and done their duty to their country in circumstances of not less danger than those who have shouldered the rifle and gone to the length of taking the lives of their enemies. The case of those to whom this Amendment would restore the vote is totally different. I submit to your Lordships that you will be proceeding upon false distinctions, that you will be embarking upon an ill-advised course, if you adopt this Amendment, and upon a course which will be, misunderstood outside, and indeed be greatly unpopular.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, on the last occasion when this subject was before the House I think that my noble friend on the Cross-Benches, Lord Courtney, thought that I had expressed a somewhat hard and even an exaggerated view of the social penalties to which conscientious objectors, particularly those of the extreme form, would be likely to be subjected. I do not think I exaggerated what I believe to be public opinion on this matter. Since that time I have heard of two cases, one in France and one in England, where German prisoners of war refused to perform their allotted task—"downed tools," in fact—because they were asked to work side by side with conscientious objectors. In my official capacity I have some knowledge of the view which is taken by officials of having to work with conscientious objectors, and therefore I cannot feel, as I said before, that the future existence of those who have taken these objections is likely to be an easy or a happy one, but that it will be very much the contrary. It is for that reason that I, for one, am not prepared to add a third penalty to the penalty imposed by law and the social penalty which, as I believe, will surround these men, many of them until their dying day. I am not prepared to support the third penalty of the deprivation of civil rights.
Perhaps I am too much of an old Tory in these matters, but I do not like at all the introduction of this plan of depriving of civil rights those who have suffered penalties for disobeying the law. It is for that reason that I cannot find myself in 706 agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker, when he suggested what, in other circumstances, I should have been disposed to support—namely, the placing of this infliction in a logical form upon all persons who have broken the law and been subjected to certain penalties. That, at any rate, is a logical proceeding. I cannot help thinking that the noble and learned Lord may have suggested it in an ironical sense, but it certainly seems to me to be infinitely preferable to the particular proposal which is embodied in the Bill as it stands and, it must be admitted, represents a compromise which was carried in the House of Commons against the extreme proposal, which many favour—namely, the disfranchising of conscientious objectors for life even though they have performed, or were prepared to perform, work of national importance. Outside this House, I confess, I have heard a good deal of solemn humbug talked of the special disqualifications which these men ought to suffer above all other criminals.
My noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley has devoted his attention to a careful and reasoned statement purporting to show that these men are, in fact, in a different case from those who have been imprisoned for crimes of all kinds and have suffered the penalty. If these men had not been subjected to legal penalties and to imprisonment, that would have been a strong argument, but they have, and they are undergoing, some of them, long terms of imprisonment in precisely the same circumstances of severity as those who have been convicted for other offences, I cannot help being reminded of a passage in Gibbon's history, in which he describes how one of the least admirable of all the Popes was tried before the Council of Constance, and, in the scathing words of that historian, was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest. But because the most scandalous charges were suppressed, those charges obviously being of a conscientious nature, the most severe penalties were not to be dreaded by that pontiff. I do not suppose that in these days there is any representative or imitator of the 23rd John to be found in these islands; but a man may be accused, and may be convicted, of any one of these offences and, when he is released from prison, the agents of the different parties would be tumbling over each other to secure his adherence to their Party.
707 It really is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the real cause of offence in these people is, not so much their avoidance of military service, as their claim to the possession of a conscience. The shirker, the coward, the malingerer, even the actual deserter, are all going to get their votes without, apparently, any objection from any one, but these particular people, who are likely to suffer very hard lives for the remainder of their days, are to be treated in this special way. I strongly object to the addition of this deprivation of civil rights to a legal penalty which has been incurred, and therefore if my noble and learned friend goes to a Division, as I assume he will, I will certainly vote with him.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
On the last occasion when we were discussing the question of the conscientious objectors, I ventured to say, I am afraid rather irreverently, that it seemed to me we never addressed ourselves to this question without making, more or less, a mess of it. I venture to think that the clause we are now discussing rather enforces the statement I then made. The noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill told us just now that the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord seemed to him to go too far. The noble Viscount knows the Bill much better than I do, and he may be right; but I am quite certain of this, that the clause goes too far, and a great deal too far.
The case really lies in a nutshell. When the Military Service Act was before us we deliberately put in a clause under which we held out the prospect of exemption from military service to certain persons who were able to satisfy the Tribunal that their objection to service was a conscientious one. That was a distinct and categoric offer, and, to my mind, it is almost unthinkable that we should now turn round and penalise the people who availed themselves of that offer by depriving them, retrospectively, of their civil rights. You find amongst this class of conscientious objectors people who object under many different circumstances. You find the deliberate shirker, the malingerer, the man who is disloyal and unpatriotic; you find others who are acting from profound conviction—members of the Society of Friends, gentlemen against whose public or private reputation there is not a word to be said. Under this clause you would 708 sweep into your net and punish in the same way the whole of these people. You are going to do this at a time when you allow criminals (real criminals) and rebels (real rebels) to go, so far as this possibility is concerned, scot free. I do not believe your Lordships will consent to that course.
I hope that His Majesty's Government will tell us that they will reconsider the clause. At any rate, it seems to me to be worth considering whether there is not something to be done in the direction indicated to the House by Lord Gainford, who I do not see in his place, but who has an Amendment down the effect of which would be, as I understand it, to distinguish between cases in which the Tribunal has accepted the plea of conscientious objection, and other cases which have in fact been decided by the Tribunal not to be genuine cases of conscientious objection, and in which consequently the person alleging conscientious objection had to undergo punishment. Whether that is the best remedy or not, I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will find for us some way out of the difficulty in which this clause places us.
I hope that the House will adopt this Amendment. The noble Viscount in charge of the Bill tried to show that this penalising provision did not deal only with conscientious objectors, but that it dealt with other people. Lord Parmoor pointed out quite clearly, by his quotation from Lord Kitchener, that the people who had pleaded conscientious objection were awarded imprisonment in lieu of detention. That, as stated by Lord Kitchener himself, was in order to turn over to the civil powers those who, if they were not conscientious objectors, would remain subject to the military power, and might be shot or suffer other punishment. I think, therefore, that Lord Kitchener's statement at the time showed that these men were conscientious objectors.
Parliament having promised to people who conscientiously object to service that they should be immune, I submit that, if, after they have incurred some offence they have served their punishment for that offence, you have no right to tack on to them some other thing because they claim—and I claim for them—that in all the elements of justice you had no right to inflict this punishment upon them. You 709 have no right to bargain with them after that to do something else whereby they should be relieved from this.
Lord Parker said that in the history of English law conscience was no defence. I do not say that that is so as to the Criminal Law, but certainly conscience has broken down the obstinacy of the law many times. Take the history of the Quakers. Why did you quite early, long before principles of toleration were recognised for others, give the Quakers recognition of their marriages? If they were not to live in a state of legal concubinage the law had to be altered so that they might be married. Even in France, under the old régime, the Huguenots had what were called marriages in the desert, and were supposed to live in concubinage, and their children were illegitimate. That was broken down by persistent obstinacy, and the old régime, though much under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, had to give way to the Huguenots. What is the history of Nonconformity? I ask the noble and learned Lord why it is that the severe laws of Conformity which were enforced in King Charles II's reign, and which were criminal laws, were broken down? Was it not by the conscientious resistance of the Nonconformists? Of course it was. It was the same thing in Scotland in the case of the Covenanters. Were they not hunted and dragooned, and did not their resolution and resistance cause an amendment of the law? The Statute Book, I am happy to say, is full of instances showing that the persistent persecution of the predominant power has been forced to give way to the resistance of conscience. It is a great reproach to us that we have so often, in our stupid and tyrannical way, compelled a resort to persistent opposition before we would recognise the elementary rights of conscience. Still, I think that the noble and learned Lord was quite wrong in supposing that conscience has never got the better of the law. Conscience has.
§ LORD PARKER
I never suggested anything of the sort. All I suggested was that, from the point of view of the law, conscience was not a defence to a crime. Of course, I know that the resistance of the Quakers and of Nonconformists to what they considered to be a, wrong state of the law has led to an alteration in the law, but that has nothing to do with the matter.
In this case these men have suffered sentences, and when a man has paid the penalty of his offence, whatever it is, I understood Lord Parker to agree with me that it ought to be sponged out. But in this case you are introducing fresh penalties against the man. The noble Earl, Lord Meath, said that he had no sympathy with the conscientious objectors.
THE EARL OF MEATH
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I said that I had the greatest sympathy with the real conscientious objector. It was with the 90 per cent. who claimed to be conscientious objectors and who were found not to be so that I did not sympathise.
A great many people say that they have sympathy for conscience in the abstract, but they have no sympathy with its application when that application is one which they do not feel in their own minds inclined to concede. Perhaps the greatest of the Roman Emperors of the past, Marcus Antoninus, tells us in his Memoirs that a man ought to be willing to die for what is right, but that he ought not to die from pig-headed obstinacy like the Christians. That shows what the feeling of a philosophical Emperor was for a form of conscience which he did not understand, and that is what we suffer from perpetually. If the conscience is not your conscience you say that it is no conscience at all.
My noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley, who soared into the empyrean of the Social Contract, soon came down again, and seemed to think that Rousseau was not as good a basis to rest his action upon as the exigencies of the present war, He spoke of the ordianry criminal and of the rebel. He said that they should purge themselves. We have tried very often to get tests to bring people to conform to our ideas of what their obligations are to the State. The history of England is full of tests and declarations of loyalty. I think that it was Lord Melbourne who said once, "I do not see the use of any tests; they only keep out scrupulous persons.' "But after all," he added, "scrupulous persons are a great bore." You have had acts of allegiance. I believe that barristers even now have to take an oath of allegiance when they are called to the Bar. Members of Parliament also take an oath of allegiance 711 when they take their seats. Does any one think that the oath of allegiance has been worth three halfpence in the history of this country? Was it worth anything in the reigns of the earlier Georges in the case of the Jacobites? I do not know whether you think that it has been very valuable in our Irish controversies. You know what Lord Chesterfield once said to a clergyman who asked him for a living, "If somehow you had added hypocrisy to your other vices I might have given it to you." That is what you get by your tests and oaths of allegiance.
I urge upon your Lordships very strongly not to complicate this question by suggestions of taking a lesser bite. Get rid of it altogether. You cannot distinguish and pry into conscience. Your Act of Parliament has said that these people were entitled to plead their conscience. They have pleaded it, and they have suffered for it. They have suffered many of them much more severe penalties than have much more worthless people. I have repeatedly seen sentences of two years imprisonment with hard labour passed upon these men for refusing to obey military orders, while I remember a case in which there was a conspiracy on the part of some doctors to allow people fraudulently to escape enlistment, and in that case the offenders got off with shorter sentences in the second division. Of course, the two years of hard labour was inflicted by a Military Court and the other sentence by a Civil Court, but it is idle to pretend that these men have not suffered and suffered very severely.
You may, of course, keep the subsection in if the majority chooses to keep it in, but you do not do yourselves any good by it. You inflict a deep sense of injury and wrong upon a small number of people, but people of tenacious, obstinate resolution—fanatical we may call them. We know that fanaticism means any very strong conviction on any principle which you do not share. And for every man whom you persecute in this way you raise up fifty or a hundred sympathisers. Further, you prejudice the law which you think you are maintaining. May I remind my noble friend how very easily people of violent conviction may be led into a most violent action? We see it stated in the newspapers that in Russia at this moment the Bolsheviks, if the new Constituent Assembly does not coincide with their views as to what is proper for Russia, contemplate simply quashing the mandate of those members who have been 712 elected and constituting an Assembly to their own mind. That is the sort of thing they are driven to. If a man does not do what you think the right thing to do, you would deprive him of his rights. One noble Lord used the word "restore" these men their right to vote. It is not a question of restoring; it is a question of not taking away. I hope that the House will see how very foolish this legislation is.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My noble friend in charge of the Bill stated that it was the intention of the Government to leave this matter to the vote of the House. I rise only for the purpose of stating why I individually cannot support the Amendment of my noble and learned friend, and mean to vote against it. My point of view is not quite the same as that of the noble Marquess below the gangway. I do not think that we ought to approach this under the idea that this is some sort of additional punishment inflicted upon the conscientious objector. It is beside the point to speak of any punishment they may have already undergone or any sufferings they may have borne. It is not a further punishment in flicted upon a criminal. The law has given this man the right to exemption from military service on the ground of conscientious objection. The real point of view from which to approach this question is this—Is it right that those who, for whatever reason, refuse to perform what is one of the first duties of citizens, should be entitled to take a part in the government of the country? It is not a question of right; it is a question of privilege; and we say to these men, "You tell us that you cannot do what other citizens ought to be prepared to do to defend the country; in that case you ought not to claim, and cannot be considered as entitled to claim, a part in its government."
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I hope the House is not going to support this Amendment. It has been pointed out to us by speaker after speaker that the Bill is not a logical one, and that this subsection might be made a great deal more logical than it is. That is quite true. But the remedy is not to strike out the subsection; the remedy is to improve it. I was very much struck with the remark made by the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe), which shows, I think, an entire misunderstanding of the position of conscientious objectors. The noble Mar- 713 quess said that if a man is a conscientious objector he has been punished for it, and he has received a much worse thing than that—he has received the censure of his fellows, which will stick to him all his life. In our class of life that is so I have known only one or two conscientious objectors, and they are tarred, I think and I hope, for life. The noble Marquess flunks that is penalty enough. It is a penalty in certain classes, but it is not a penalty everywhere. Does the noble Marquess read the newspapers? Some of these conscientious objectors are being put forward as candidates for Parliament; I believe that some of them have actually been adopted. They are being treated as heroes in certain classes. Far from its being a punishment to receive the censure of their fellows in certain classes—I hope very small classes—it seems to be a recommendation.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
What I was speaking of was the cases, of which I had heard, of people who have refused them employment, and therefore my presumption was that such people in the class to which my noble friend was alluding would find it exceedingly hard to get work.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I hope they will. I want to deal with one argument which has been put forward by supporter after supporter of this Amendment. It was put forward by the noble Lord who moved the Amendment; also, I think, by the noble Lord on the Cross Benches, Lord Parker, and by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. They all in turn pointed out somebody whom they disliked more than the conscientious objector, and they said, "Why, here is a much worse man, and you are letting him off." Lord Parmoor said you are shutting out from the franchise the real conscientious objector, and retain the class of men who claim that they were conscientious objectors and the Tribunal would not admit them as conscientious objectors. Those men he called "scoundrelly hypocrites," and he said, "Let off the men we are dealing with now, because those other people are allowed to vote, and they are scoundrelly hypocrites." That is not an argument for modifying the clause; it is an argument for strengthening it. The noble Marquess below the gangway said we were going to give the vote to a lot of admitted rebels in Ireland; therefore the conscientious objectors should have it. But all these noble Lords ought not to be voting 714 for this Amendment at all, if that is their reason; they ought to be bringing forward Amendments for strengthening this clause. It is no argument at all for striking out this subsection that there are other people who ought to be included in it. I hope the House will stand by this clause as it is, and that before the debate is over some noble Lords will try to strengthen it.
I am sorry to say that I do not feel that I can vote for the clause, provided, as I understand it, all the provisos to subsection (2) are included in the Amendment. I say this because of the extreme inequality of treatment of the conscientious objector by the Tribunals. That is one objection. The second is the inequality of treatment that is handed out to the conscientious objector—however he has been treated by the Tribunal—as compared with other people, especially those Irishmen who have not undertaken to serve.
I have been serving on an Appeal Tribunal for three years. We have had a very large number of cases before us, but I think I am right in saying that in not one single instance have the military authorities been put to any trouble or inconvenience by any decision of this particular Tribunal in regard to a conscientious objector. I am utterly unable, of course, to understand or to appreciate the attitude of mind of conscientious objectors. I cannot understand how any man who has any feeling of patriotism, who has any feeling of affection for his country, who has any feeling that his everyday life is assisted by all the services around him—I cannot understand how it is possible for such a man to refuse to serve his country when his country asks him. But, as a member of an Appeal Tribunal, that was not my business. My business was to endeavour to get behind the man's mind and to find out whether he was or was not a conscientious objector.
At a very early stage in the proceedings I was most anxious that the treatment of these individuals should be as nearly consistent as possible; and at a meeting held at the Local Government Board, with Mr. Walter Long in the chair, I asked whether it would not be possible for all cases of conscientious objectors, recognised as such by the Appeal Tribunals, to be passed up to the Central Tribunal in order that there 715 might be consistency of treatment. Mr. Long overruled it on the ground (to use his own expression) that the Central Tribunal would be "snowed under" with these cases. The result of that ruling was that the Appeal Tribunals themselves dealt with most of these cases, and I assume they did what my own Tribunal did—refused appeals to the Central Tribunal.
It is obvious that Tribunals which took the same view as that taken by the East Kent Appeal Tribunal must have differed materially in their views of what was a conscientious objection. Many Tribunals refused to believe the appellant, disregarded his appeal and his evidence that he was a conscientious objector, and sent him into military service. I do not; believe that in any single instance the East Kent Appeal Tribunal did that. They may have allowed an appeal and sent the man to the Central Tribunal, which Tribunal may have sent him into the Army; but in practically every case we found it too difficult for us to be able honestly to say that a man had not a conscientious objection. The members of the Tribunal were all individuals who had been accustomed to deal with this particular class of appeal; they were men who had had to deal with the claim of conscientious objection in connection with the Vaccination Act. I am sorry to say that, as representing the Local Government Board in this House, I was the author of the introduction into that Act of the conscientious objection. I hated having to do it, but it was done; and that was another instance of obstinacy eventually leading to an alteration of the law.
What has happened in regard to conscientious objectors under the Military Service Acts? There has been a marked distinction of treatment by many Tribunals in respect of these men. Some Tribunals have sent them into military service; other Tribunals have accepted their plea and found work for them. There is a difference of treatment in this Bill. One lot of men will be able to bring forward evidence that they have done the work which has been assigned to them, and if they can prove this within a year they will be put on the Register. The other men who have been sent into the Army—and who have been consistent in their objection, have put the military authorities to an infinity of trouble and to an entirely unnecessary amount of labour, occupying officers and men in unnecessary and un- 716 military work—those other men will be disfranchised for five years. There is inequality of treatment in the clause itself. There has been inequality of treatment in the decisions of the Tribunals; and that is one of the reasons why I feel that I cannot conscientiously inflict this penalty upon these men—entirely unable, as I am, to sympathise with their attitude of mind.
My second objection is that it seems to me absolutely inconsistent to allow all those young men who have shirked their patriotic duty in Ireland—and, so far as we know, Ireland is going to be included in the Bill—to have advantages of Parliamentary representation far in excess of the proportion of England, Scotland, and Wales, amongst other advantages; yet they are not to be penalised because they have refused military service. There is inconsistency in the Act itself, in the clauses themselves, and in the treatment of conscientious objectors. On all these grounds I feel, much as (I was going to say) I despise these men, that I cannot support this subsection. But I must add that I have had many men come up before my Tribunal who were not conscientious objectors but appellants against military service, whom I despise infinitely more than I despise the conscientious objector. They are men who have tried to shirk, and who have sometimes succeeded in shirking, military service, although they had no conscientious objection at all. Those were the real hypocrites. There again is inequality as between men like that—who are constantly coming up now, and who are shielded by some of the clauses of the Military Service Acts—and the honest conscientious objector.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
The noble Lord who has just sat down seems to have added a very strong argument against this subsection in the illustrations he has given to the House from his own personal experience of the inequality with which it would operate. I have risen to say but a few sentences in order to recall the House to the fact that the case which was made by my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor for bringing forward this Amendment does not seem to have been met. I have listened attentively to the whole debate, and I notice that the two arguments which he raised have not, so far as I can see, really been grappled with.
The first argument was that when the Military Service Act was passed it pro- 717 vided for the case of the conscientious objector; it directed the Tribunals not to disregard the plea of conscientious objection; it recognised that as a valid ground why a man should be exempted from military service. The only approach to argument made on that subject was made by the Lord Chancellor, who said that if a man refused to accept the duties of a citizen he ought not to have the privileges of a citizen. But the Statute, when it was passed, made no such condition. The Statute assumed the case of persons who were not going to discharge the duties of citizens, and expressly provided for them. Therefore I venture to think, with the greatest respect to the Lord Chancellor, that the consideration which he adduced, strong as it is if you look at it as a matter of theory, does not meet the argument of the promise held out by the Statute.
Another point put by Lord Parmoor was this. This is a matter of conscience. Conscience is a thing which we have all learnt to respect. No one, however much he may dislike and find unintelligible the attitude of many of these conscientious objectors, can possibly deny that there is a good deal of honest conscientious objection. We know that in the past men who have relied upon and obeyed their conscience have been among the most precious assets of the country, and it is largely to those who were true to their conscience when very few sympathised with them that the great privileges and liberties of this and other countries have been due. Therefore we ought to come to this question with respect for those who hold conscientious objections. I have not heard any answer made to that argument.
I have only one further consideration to add. It is proposed to continue this disqualification for five years. Many things may happen in the course of five years. This excitement will be forgotten in the new questions which will arise and new groupings men will take. Is it to be desired that the only trace we should leave of the war on the Statute Book should be this disqualification, and that four or five years hence it should be cast up to a man, whom we know to have been honest, that he failed his country at this crisis—when as we know it was not, the want of a sense of duty to the country but intellectual perversion which caused him to decline that duty. Surely it would be a pity to leave upon the Statute Book a trace of this 718 question, which has caused so much trouble during the past three years, and in dealing with which Parliament has not shown itself very skilful.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I only want to trouble your Lordships with a few words in explanation why I propose to vote against the Amendment. I think the effect of the clause has been rather misconceived because it is extremely badly expressed. I do not think that any one of your Lordships will disagree that it is an extremely bad piece of Parliamentary work. The principle upon which the clause works is that it begins by a general disqualification on the ground of exemption, and then there is a proviso which strictly limits it. I want to call your Lordships' attention to the only proviso which for the purpose of my argument is important. It says that the disqualification shall not apply to any person who, within one year after the termination of the war, proves to the Central Tribunal that, having been exempted from military service on condition of doing work of national importance, he has done such work. I do not admire the particular way in which that principle is carried out, but the principle is very clear. The House of Commons, in the clause, did not intend that any man who had been awarded exemption on the condition that he did work of national importance, and who did work of national importance, should be disqualified. I hope you will see that this is a tremendous limitation. It is not suggested in the clause that every conscientious objector should be disqualified. It is suggested in the first paragraph of the clause, but when you read the provisos you see that they strictly limit it; and the result of the clause, taken with the provisos, is that if a man is exempted on the condition that he does work of national importance, and does it, then disqualification for the vote shall be removed. It appears to me that that, although very ill-expressed in the Bill, is the right principle. Although I think every respect is to be paid to the genuine conscientious objectors, I agree with much that has been said in your Lordships' House this evening. I do not think we ought to treat with contempt in any sense the really conscientious objector. In the course of my duties as Chairman of the Central Tribunal I have seen a great deal lately of these men, and I have come away from the examination of them with the profound opinion 719 that in many cases they were men of the highest character and the noblest aims, and I am not able to say in this House, or anywhere else, that I despise them, for I do not. I honour them. I do not say that that applies to all alleged conscientious objectors. I am speaking of a certain number of them. As I say, this clause says that if a man has exemption on condition that he does work of national importance, and does it, then he is not to be disqualified. The only persons who under the principle of the clause are to be disqualified are persons who, having been exempted, refuse to do work of national importance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If it is not so, then it ought to be so; and that is the principle upon which I am prepared to work. I think that, Parliament having given under the Military Service Act exemption on certain grounds, if those grounds are fulfilled by the conscientious objector he should not be disqualified from having the vote. If he refuse—and these are the cases to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention—if he refuse to obey the conditions of his exemption (I am familiar with a number of such cases) then I must say I think he ought to be disqualified. That appears to me to be the principle on which we should work.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, spoke of the great diversity of treatment meted out to conscientious objectors by different Tribunals. I do not know how far that may be so, but it certainly is the fact in a considerable number of cases, and it was for that very reason that the Government established the special jurisdiction of the Central Tribunal, under which all sentences of imprisonment on account of conscientious objection were reviewed. Where the Central Tribunal found that the conscientious objection was genuine they reported, as your Lordships know, to the Home Office, so that the conscientious objector, instead of being imprisoned, could be put to work of national importance. It appears to me that wherever that has happened, wherever the Central Tribunal has sat upon a case and found that the other Tribunals have made a mistake and that the man has, after all, a conscientious objection—the man who is imprisoned—that fact should be acknowledged, and the dis- 720 qualification from the vote ought to be removed. I should like to see the clause so drawn that wherever a man has been originally exempted on condition that he does work of national importance, and does it, or has been afterwards found by the Central Tribunal to have a conscientious objection and does the work of national importance which he is directed to do, then the disqualification should not obtain. He should be allowed to vote like every one else. Where, however, he refuses to do work of national importance, or where, after the Central Tribunal have tried his case again and said to him, "Though you have a conscientious objection you ought to do work of national importance," he again refuses, he should be disqualified as a rebel of society not deserving the privileges of a citizen.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
It is at least important that, whatever decision your Lordships come to on the clause, it should not be reached under a misapprehension as to its effect. There is an Amendment, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Gainford, who has asked me to move it, which deals with the question referred to by the noble Marquess. The noble Marquess's argument was based upon a view which I think your Lordships on examination of the clause will find is entirely unsound. There have been throughout the administration of the Military Service Acts two distinct classes into which the Tribunals have separated conscientious objectors. The first class is that of the man who established his conscientious objection so completely to the satisfaction of the Tribunal that they granted him absolute exemption and said that he was outside the whole purview of the Act. That class was, no doubt, composed largely of Quakers and people of that description, because the rigid religious objection of Quakers to anything connected with military service is so much a part of our national history that it was regarded from the first as something alien to all precedents to include them within the ambit of the Act. Absolute exemption could be granted, and in many cases (as Lord Harris has said) was granted to people of that description. When that occurred there was nothing more to be done. There was no service imposed upon them. There was no national work which they had to perform. They were declared by the competent Tribunal to be people to whom the Military Service Act did not apply.
721 The other class was the class upon whom the Tribunal imposed the performance of certain kinds of work as a condition of exemption. It is that latter class, and that latter class alone, which is dealt with by proviso (4) of subsection (2). The noble Marquess—I am sorry to see he has left his place—says that he is satisfied with the clause, because he thinks that proviso (1) affords proper protection to all excepting those who may be perverse. He has overlooked the fact that it does not apply to the very people whose conscientious objection has been most satisfactorily established, and who have been declared by the Tribunal to be completely exempt from the whole provisions of the Act. Now, as I say, one thing at least is important. Whichever way your Lordships vote on the matter you should vote with the facts clearly before you. As the matter now stands, such a man as the late Mr. John Bright—who, if he had been a young man, would most unquestionably have come before one of these Tribunals and I doubt not have been exempted—would most certainly be disqualified for the period of five years.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I wish to say a few words on what my noble friend Lord Bryce said as to the disqualification of conscientious objectors for five years after the war. I do not see how it would be possible for any administrative official to give effect to this provision if it were carried. How would he possibly know that these conscientious objectors, who are under such a variety of complicated conditions, were the people to whom reference is made? I think the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, has an Amendment which is intended to deal with the difficulty, but I do not believe it would be within the capacity of any official to recognise the men who during the war have been conscientious objectors. I agree with the words spoken by the Lord Chancellor as to why these objectors should be defranchised during the war, but unless the Government can show that they have some machinery by which they can detect after the war those who have been conscientious objectors, I think it would be most unwise to put in a provision to which we could not give effect.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I desire to reply briefly to two points. I have had the opportunity of pointing out to the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) what is the real meaning of the words with which sub- 722 section (2) begins, and I think he is satisfied that paragraph (4) of the proviso to which he referred would not affect the disqualification in any way; it would be made absolute, and absolute in a way with which he would disagree. I do not, of course, in any way criticise what the noble Marquess said. I entirely agree with what he said as to the position of the conscientious objector. There is only one other point, and that is in answer to what was said by the Lord Chancellor. Of course, the word "penalty" may be used in different senses. But surely there really is a penalty. You have a man who, quite apart from this Bill, would or might have the franchise, and you deprive him of it. Is not that a penalty—a penalty as regards citizenship? Certainly it would be, in my view. I do not want to deal with mere words. I should have thought it was a penalty as regards citizenship, and intended to be a penalty under the terms of the Bill.
May I add one word to what I have already said? I think the noble Marquess will confirm me in the statement that it was not for some weeks after the Tribunals began to sit that the provision was made with regard to work of national importance. Therefore a considerable number of conscientious objectors were dealt with who never had a chance of being given work of national importance.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I said I was not going to say anything further, but I should like to make one observation, merely for the sake of correcting a slight misapprehension arising out of the statement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. He was replying to an observation made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and he pointed out that persons who had been completely exempted by Tribunals with no condition to do work of national importance would not come under the provision of proviso (4). That, of course, is completely correct. But I think it would leave the Committee under the impression that these men could not put themselves right before the Tribunals in any way. That is not quite so. For if, under the provision of proviso (3), they can show that they have done service abroad or afloat in connection with the war in any work of the Red Cross Society or of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem or any other body with a similar object, the disqualification will not apply. I think it is fair to point out that they have that loophole.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
That is not the same thing as proviso (4). It is a totally different thing. He may do work of national importance by making shells. Provisos (1) and (2) are essentially of a military character, and proviso (3) is associated with it. It may well be that the man who is a conscientious objector would feel that he could not do service under proviso (1), (2), or (3), but on the vast area of work of national importance he may be prepared to enter and do work. None the less he would be disqualified.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
As one who voted just now for the retention of the first two words,
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
In order that noble Lords may be safeguarded in moving further Amendments to the subsection, I will put the Question that the first two words of subsection (2), "Any person," stand part of the subsection.
§ On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause—
§ Their Lordships divided:—
§ Contents, 88; Not-Contents 26.723
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Selborne, E.||Desborough, L.|
|Finlay, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Waldegrave, E.||Digby, L.|
|Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.) (L. Privy Seal.)||Dinevor, L.|
|Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Elphinstone, L.|
|Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Faber, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Allendale, V.||Gisborough, L.|
|Newcastle, D.||Chaplin, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Devonport, V.||Kenyon, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Bath, M.||Falmouth, V.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Camden, M.||Halifax, V.||Lambourne, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Hambleden, V.||Lamington, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Iveagh, V.||Leith of Fyvie, L.|
|Knollys, V.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Ancaster, E.||Milner, V.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Brownlow, E.||Peel, V.||Newton, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Chesterfield, E.||Annesley, L.||Pontypridd, L.|
|Durham, E.||Avebury, L.||Ranksborough, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Balfour, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Grey, E.||Barnard, L.||St. Davids, L. [Teller.]|
|Harewood, E.||Barrymore, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Howe, E.||Beresford of Metemmeh, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Blyth, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Burnham, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Carmichael, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Charnwood, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L. [Teller.]|
|Malmesbury, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Suffield, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Morton, E.||Colebrooke, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||De Mauley, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Crewe, M.||Harcourt, V.||Emmott, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Harris, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Lincoln, L. Bp.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Parmoor, L. [Teller.]|
|Beauchamp, E. [Teller.]||Anslow, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Loreburn, E.||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Russell, E.||Buckmaster, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Stuart of Castle Stuart, L. (E. Moray.)|
|Bryce, V.||Colchester, L.|
|Gladstone, V.||Courtney of Penwith, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Denman, L.|
§ I gave my vote with a view to getting the clause properly amended. I believe that the clause is capable of being made a good one, but even with the Amendments on the Paper put in I do not believe that the confusion in which it obviously stands at 725 this moment will be removed. The whole thing will remain a complete complexity and a maze of words. I strongly urge the Committee that it is desirable that the Amendments should be withdrawn, and that the clause should be brought up again in a new form on Report. We cannot tell exactly how it stands now, and we have con flitting advice from those who may be supposed to tell us properly. I believe that this clause might be brought into a shape that is tolerable, but I do not think that it can be made practicable, as it is at present with its maze of words, by the mere insertion of the Amendments on the Paper.
§ EARL LOREBURN
I did not know that the most rev. Primate was going to say what he has, but I was going to make a similar suggestion. We know how these clauses are drafted in the mill, so to speak, as they go through the House of Commons, and how they are left obscure. This clause seems to me to be very difficult to follow. It might be possible to withdraw it for the moment and then to recommit it. It might then be put into an intelligible shape after being redrafted with the skilled assistance which is available in this House.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It will put the Government in a very difficult position if they withdraw this clause and make themselves responsible for bringing in another in a different form, because the clause itself was only accepted by the Government as being put in by the House of Commons. The Government, therefore, are not in a position to take upon themselves the full responsibility of doing what they like with the clause, more especially as I do not think that it is absolutely clear in what direction the Committee wish the clause to be amended. I was going to make a counter-suggestion, if I might. If the most rev. Primate would himself put down the Amendments which he suggests, they could then be considered by the Government. I need hardly say, of course, that he would have all the assistance he wished in order that his intention should be put into regular Parliamentary shape. I do not think the Government can undertake to present a redrawn clause of their own.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER moved to omit from subsection (2) the words "who has been exempted from all military service (including non-combatant service) on the ground of conscientious objection or". The noble and learned Lord said: My noble friend Lord Gainford has asked me to move this Amendment on his behalf. I do not think that in doing so it will be necessary for me to discuss in as much detail as I otherwise should the reasons why this Amendment has been put down, because on the debate that has just taken place I pointed out to your Lordships what are the absurdities, as they seem to me, of the clause as it now stands. A man given absolute exemption, with no condition what ever thrown upon him, will be disqualified from voting under this clause a though performs work which is undoubtedly and admittedly of national importance; in other words, he will be in a worse position than the objector upon whom conditions have been imposed which the objector has satisfied under proviso (4). That cannot possibly have been the meaning and intention of Parliament. No reason whatever can be advanced why a man whose objection has been completely accepted by a Tribunal should be put in a worse position than a man whoso sincerity they may doubt, and upon whom, for the purpose of testing his sincerity, they impose conditions of work.
§ This Amendment proposes to leave out the words "who has been exempted from all military service (including non-combatant service) on the ground of conscientious objection or". It would then read "who, having been convicted by Court-Martial of an offence." The result of accepting the Amendment in this form would also be to prevent the penalty which is now imposed in the clause from attaching at any time to that particular class of conscientious objector, even if he has not performed his national work. Surely that is not a great thing to ask. The truth is that in dealing with this class of man you are dealing with a very limited class of persons indeed, and I think that they must be accepted by every one as being the class who most deserve, among these people, respect—probably the men to whom the noble Marquess referred just now when he said he honoured their convictions. Whether your Lordships take that extended view or not, of one thing I trust I am fully 727 certain, and that is that your Lordships do not intend that this clause shall remain in the Bill in such a form as that penalties are imposed discriminatively against the man who has had absolute exemption and in favour of the man who has had exemption upon condition. I believe that I am not; stating facts that are not capable of support, though I am not familiar with them myself, when I say that I have heard of men who have been granted exemption and who have done, out of a spirit of a sense of duty, exactly the work which would enable them to have escaped this clause. But they cannot by any means whatever, as this Bill now stands, get that exemption by virtue of the provisions of proviso (4). I feel that this would be the real meaning of the Government in this matter, and I beg of them, therefore, to accept my Amendment.
Page 6, line 35, leave out from ("person") to ("who") in line 37.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
I can quote a case which occurred before the provision of work of national importance was instituted by the Local Government Board. It is the case of a whole family of conscientious objectors—the father, and three or four sons. We had to deal with the eldest son, and the evidence was perfectly clear that the whole family objected to military service, but there were no provisions at that time for giving such a person the choice of work of national importance. We exempted the man, and claimed a promise from him that he would continue the work which he was doing, which was agriculture—unquestionably work of national importance—and this would have come under the wording of the exemption subsequently provided for us by the Central Tribunal, but I am very doubtful whether that man would be able to get exemption under proviso (4).
Whereas a week or two afterwards a man came before the same Tribunal, and because in the meantime this arrangement had been made for work of national importance he would have the advantage of proviso (4).
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble and learned Lord opposite has to some extent raised the 728 same point as was discussed on the last Amendment, with reference to those conscientious objectors who have obtained entire exemption from the Tribunal. Of course, these words include two classes—those who have been altogether exempted and those who have been exempted on condition of doing work of national importance. [NOBLE LORDS: "No, no."] I know there is some difference of opinion, but I will state the reasons why I hold that view. Subsection (2) begins "Any person"; then follow the words, "who has been exempted from all military service (including non-combatant service) on the ground of conscientious objection." Those are the words you propose to leave out. If those words do not include the persons who have been exempted on the ground of doing work of national importance, surely proviso (4) has not any meaning. Proviso (4) applies, I think, to one-half of the people who are dealt with in the words proposed to be left out, and they can get back if they can show that they have done work of national importance. The contention of the noble Lord is that persons who have been exempted unconditionally cannot get back under proviso (4) because it applies to those who have been exempted on condition of doing work of national importance. I am very chary in suggesting anything in the nature of drafting, but some words might be inserted in the proviso to make the point clear.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
The noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment has undoubtedly pointed to a great defect, but the right way to remedy it is to operate on proviso (4) and not to do what the noble and learned Lord proposed to do—namely, to enfranchise the man who has got absolute exemption and has done nothing to help his country at all. He is simply in the position of a shareholder who has not paid his calls and wants to take part and vote at the general meeting, and I do not think he ought to have a vote.
§ LORD EMMOTT
Who is going to decide what is work of national importance for this purpose? If a Tribunal gives exemption provided work of national importance is undertaken, it can prescribe what is work of national importance. But who is going to decide in the case of a man on whom no such obligation has been laid?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That is met by words at the beginning of the proviso which says, "Provided that this disqualification shall not apply to any person who, within one year after the termination of the war, proves to the Central Tribunal," and then, under proviso (4), "has done such work" of national importance. They will decide that, and it is manifest that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill is right when he says that those exempted from military service may have been exempted either absolutely or conditionally. It is clear that he is right, for this reason. If it were not so, those who were exempted on condition of doing work of national importance would not be in one category under those who were exempted from doing all military service, which it is clear that they are. I suggest that the point should be met by using the wording of proviso (4), and making it apply where work of national importance is done, whether it is imposed as a condition or not. But as regards the Amendment itself, it really asks us to reconsider what we have been discussing for the last three hours and have decided.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Apart from the particular point which has just been the subject of discussion, I cannot refrain from calling the attention of the Committee to the fact that this is a Government Bill, and that when Government Hills are before your Lordships' House it is universally the privilege of the Government to suggest the form which the particular clauses should take, subject, of course, to the interpretation of the sense of the clauses by the House. After all, I think His Majesty's Government have practically the sole command of the draftsmen whose business it is to put the Bill into the best shape. I quite understand that when a question has been left open by the Government and a particular opinion has been expressed by the House of Commons and inserted in the Bill, the Government would not desire to modify the sense of it. But when it comes to the form and the method of drafting, I hope that we may look on this occasion of all others to the assistance of the Government, and that they will not do what the noble Viscount did just now, wash his hands of the whole business and suggest that the most rev. Primate should draft his Bill for him. It is a departure, I think, from anything we have ever seen in this House when the Govern- 730 ment not merely say that this or that clause is left open and the individual members of the Government may vote for it, but refuse to take any responsibility for the form in which the Bill is to be presented to your Lordships.
I was not altogether surprised to hear the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill anxious to disclaim any responsibility for this clause. I am not surprised also that His Majesty's Government are not very proud of it. But I think I am correct in saying that although the Government is not the father of this clause, it is not incorrect to describe them as certainly the stepfather of it. The Government have had a great deal to do with the drafting of this clause. If my recollection serves me aright, the clause was even more nonsensical as first put in than it has been shown to be to-day; and I think I am right in saying that the Home Secretary, who was in charge of the Bill in the other House, completely redrafted the clause, by Government Amendments, from top to bottom. The clause as it now appears in the Bill is practically one which was drafted by the Government, modelled upon a suggestion made, it is true, in the House. If it is suggested that the Amendment which is now before us could be, dealt with by an Amendment to proviso (4), I think it will be found that this is difficult, if not impossible; and if it is desired to meet this Amendment in some other way, the place to look is line 7 on page 7, and the way would probably be something of this sort—to make the beginning of the proviso read, "Provided that this qualification shall not apply to any person who has received unconditional exemption, or who…", and then proceed with the rest of the clause. It seems to me that this would be a better way to meet the point.
I think it will be within the recollection of the noble Viscount, and of the House, that he tried to draw a distinction between the real conscientious objectors who are treated in lines 35 and 36, and then suggested to the House that persons who had been convicted by Courts-Martial of offences against military law were only people who had represented that they had a conscientious objection. But he was not sure that this was so. I think that my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor showed, by quoting from Lord Kitchener, 731 that was not correct. At any rate the noble Viscount tried to draw a marked distinction between those who might not be real conscientious objectors and those who were. It is a matter of record (if I may use a legal expression) that these persons are conscientious objectors, because a Tribunal has found, without any qualification, or any reserve, or any obligation, that they were entitled to the benefits of the Military Service Acts. Therefore I hope that my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster will not withdraw this Amendment but will press it to a Division. It is vital that we should have it put on record who in this House wish to repudiate a solemn contract entered into by Parliament with people as to their rights. I do not agree with the latter part, but I think it would be a more flagrant and glaring breach of Parliamentary faith if we were not to accept the Amendment of Lord Buckmaster.
If the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill is disposed to introduce some words—as I understood from the Lord Chancellor was possible—to meet the objection of the noble and learned Lord opposite, I think he will find that he can get at a date which will be useful from an Order issued by the Local Government Board—I think it is R. 104. Previous to that date there was no provision for national service, but after that date every Tribunal could send a conscientious objector to work of national importance. It is possible that if the noble and learned Lord will look up that Order he will find the date of the issue of R. 104 (if that is the right Order), and that might very likely help him in finding words to suit the noble and learned Lord opposite.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It has been suggested to me that some such words as these, which I will read out, might possibly meet the difficulty. They would come in in proviso (4)—in fact, they would be in the nature of a substitution for the words in that proviso. The suggested words are these—(4) that he has been engaged on work of national importance, and has adequately performed such work.I do not know whether those words are likely to meet the position of noble Lords opposite. Anyhow, if some such words were inserted, I think the only people who would be excluded under these first few lines would be those who had refused to do any work of national importance of any 732 kind. I understood that those were the persons whom a large number of noble Lords were ready to exclude, bringing in those who would have been entirely excluded but who would not have a chance, under the present provision, of bringing themselves back on to the Register.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I hope that His Majesty's Government will look into this question and consider it at their leisure. The Lord Chancellor told us just now that he thought we were merely endeavouring to reopen a subject which we had been discussing for some time this evening. That is not how I understand the point. I understand my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster to desire to establish a distinction—which seems to me to be a real distinction—between two classes of these conscientious objectors. First, the conscientious objector who comes before us, as it were, with a perfectly clean bill of health, who has satisfied the Tribunal and has obtained absolute and unconditional exemption without any question arising of his liability to perform national service. Then you have the wholly different class—the man who did not satisfy the Tribunal, who did not receive unconditional exemption, who has been refractory, who has resisted the military authorities, who has had to undergo detention and imprisonment, and who has put himself in frank opposition to the Government authorities—who has defied the Government, you may put it as strongly as that. Surely there is something to be said in favour of making some difference in the treatment that you accord to these two classes of people.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will answer what has been put to me by my noble friend. The words with which we are now dealing are these, "who has been exempted from all military service (including non-combatant service) on the ground of conscientious objection." That class of persons will be composed of two categories—namely, those who have unconditional exemption from all military service, and those who have obtained exemption on the condition of their doing some work of national importance. The suggestion which the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill made was that you should so alter proviso (4), that the whole of the class who have been exempted from all military service—whether absolutely or 733 conditionally—shall get their vote back by doing work of national importance and showing the Central Tribunal that they have adequately discharged such work. I think I was justified in saying that the Amendment as moved is really what we have already been discussing. What I have said, I think, shows how the real object which my noble and learned friend is entitled to raise can be adequately met.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, by that Amendment would not include that class of man who was referred to by Lord Harris as never having had a chance of doing work of national importance. That is a class of man to whom some consideration should be given. Lord Harris made a most admirable suggestion when he put forward the idea that some distinction should be made in the case of those men who came before the Tribunals before the issue of Circular R. 104.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think I am right in saying that anybody can apply to be allowed to do work of national importance. It is not necessary that it should be imposed as a condition. The man has only to come forward and say that he wants to do such work, and there will be no difficulty in finding it for him.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
That is perfectly obvious. But the point is that when given exemption there was not any suggestion or condition that he should do work of national importance. The whole scheme of the Local Government Board came into operation at a later date, and I do not think it is fair to treat these men, who were given complete exemption without any condition, in the same way as if they had an opportunity of doing work of national importance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am very reluctant to intervene, because the last time I addressed your Lordships I did nothing but mislead the House, but I must honestly say that I do not think we are getting on very fast with this clause. I do not like to make criticisms, but I hope the Government are convinced that the system under which you have a Government Bill and in respect of whole clauses of which the Government refuse to take the lead, is not a very satisfactory system. It did not work in the House of Commons, 734 and altough I do not blame the Government in the circumstances I must point out that it has produced a great deal of confusion. I cannot vote for Lord Gainford's Amendment because I think it goes too far, but I am not sure whether the words suggested by the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill would do. He does not make himself responsible for them. I think the real truth is that, as the Government have not themselves taken charge of this clause, we really want a little more time in which to consider how we should deal with it. It is now half-past seven, and I think we should save time if the House were now to be resumed. We could then continue the discussion on this clause to-morrow, and in the course of the morning we might arrive at a satisfactory form of drafting.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I should like to state that the last thing which my noble friend (Lord Peel) intended was to act discourteously to your Lordships.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
No; but Lord Crewe blamed the Government for not taking responsibility, and I think Lord Russell took the same course.
No, I did not blame them. I said they had already taken a very large responsibility for the clause.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
It was left to the House of Commons, and there did not seem to be anything wrong in leaving it to your Lordships, without Government control. Lord Crewe objected very strongly. The argument generally is that the Government controls Parliament too much, and leaves too little to the unofficial members. But when the unofficial members are asked to co-operate I am afraid they say that the Government have no business to leave the matter open in that way. The noble Marquess did not suggest that the Government should have taken control on the question of woman suffrage.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Far from it. I am afraid I expressed myself wrongly. So far as I complained, I complained not of the Government not laying down the law, so to speak, as regards the sense of any particular clause, but that they failed to 735 give us so far as they might the usual assistance which one expects from the Government, and which all Peers are entitled to receive from the Government Bench in passing a particular clause in the best possible form.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I hope I may be forgiven for saying that this clause reaches us from another place. It is a matter about which there is a great difference of opinion, and my noble friend suggested, perhaps in too diffident a fashion, a form of words. He will place them on the Paper to-night, and it is suggested that we should now adjourn and resume the 736 debate to-morrow. Lord Buckmaster's Amendment is still before the House, but we can resume the discussion in the light of the subsequent Amendment which will stand on the Paper in the name of Lord Peel.
§ House resumed; and to be again in Committee to-morrow.
§ Moved, that the House do adjourn until 3.30 to-morrow.—(The Earl of Crawford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before eight o'clock.