HL Deb 02 March 1943 vol 126 cc358-92

THE DUKE OF BEDFORD had the following Notice on the Paper: To call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the unsatisfactory position whereby, through the failure of many tribunals to discharge their duties in a just and reasonable manner, and also through the failure of the Government to recognize the right of conscientious objection to fire-watching and to other compulsory work ordered by the Ministry of Labour, many persons of good character are being heavily fined or imprisoned, sometimes repeatedly for the same offence. To move to resolve, That the right to conscientious objection to fire-watching and to work ordered by the Ministry of Labour be henceforward recognized and that appellate tribunals should contain a majority of persons who, while fully prepared to recognize and reject the appeals of persons who are not genuine, have sympathy for the position of the sincere objector, whatever the grounds for his objection.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, various attempts have been made, both during the last war and during the present war, to prevent the unfortunate spectacle of a Government professedly fighting for freedom and democracy inflicting fines and sentences of imprisonment upon people whose consciences do not allow them to obey the orders of the State. Unfortunately, however, only a limited degree of success has been achieved in this direction, partly by reason of the unsatisfactory composition of the tribunals dealing with conscientious objectors, and partly owing to the refusal of the Government in this war to allow conscientious objection in regard to fire-watching or industrial conscription. Up to January 31, 1943, about 2,500 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned since the beginning of the war. About 305 are at present in prison. Of conscientious objectors who have been court-martialled, which involves imprisonment or detention in military barracks, also up to January 31, 1943, 195 have been court-martialled once, 101 twice, 33 thrice, 2 four times, and 2 five times; so that it will be seen that even the so-called "cat-and-mouse" treatment has not entirely ended. The position is made worse by the extremely bad conditions which now prevail in many of our prisons—conditions far worse than anything I ever saw when, many years ago, I myself was a prison visitor. In some cases the cells are dirty and badly heated. They may even be verminous. The sanitary accommodation is often wholly inadequate and extremely disgusting, and frequently is out of repair for long periods. The food is extremely bad, often insufficient in quantity and so dirty and badly cooked as in some cases to cause ill-health. The medical and dental treatment is also scandalously inadequate. Indeed an organization has recently been formed with the object of trying to get this abuse remedied.

Victor Walker, widely known to his friends and relatives as a genuine and sincere conscientious objector, was turned down by the tribunals and sentenced to twelve months' hard labour. He was in good health when he went to prison, but after some months he became seriously ill. His brother complained, but no notice whatever was taken of the complaint. When he was eventually released he was in a very serious state of ill-health and had to be taken to hospital, where he died a few months later. Very young conscientious objectors may be sent, in some cases, to Borstal institutions, where they have to associate with housebreakers, male prostitutes, forgers, black market dealers and persons convicted of assault. Sometimes they are bullied by their associates, and cases have been known where the persons in charge of these institutions have, out of spite, given them less than the normal food ration.

Some time ago an extremely bad case of brutality to conscientious objectors who had been put into the Army occurred at Dingle Vale Camp, Liverpool. An inquiry was eventually made and some of the persons responsible received trifling punishments. Had they been Germans found guilty of similar conduct towards Poles or Jews by a tribunal dealing with war criminals, I think they would have been fortunate if they had escaped with less than five years imprisonment and twenty lashes with the cat. It is a very unfortunate fact, characteristic of war-time, that people seem-to be increasingly conscious of the acts of cruelty and oppression committed by the enemy and increasingly callous towards similar acts committed by their own Government. Even when these are brought to their notice they seem to con-cider the reflection, "How much worse things must be in Germany," a quite sufficient answer. Would they, I wonder, be satisfied if Hitler had excused concentration camps by saying "How much worse things have been in Russia"? A sad incident occurred some months ago when a young Oxford graduate who had been turned down by the tribunals committed suicide by throwing himself off the roof of his parents' London flat.

The whole question of the treatment of conscientious objectors is apt to be viewed with so much prejudice that before dealing at greater length with the actual abuses and the proper remedy I wish to make a few general observations. First and foremost, it is essential to remember that what really matters is not the reasonableness, or unreasonableness, of the conscientious objector's point of view in the opinion of other people; it is the persecution of perfectly sincere individuals who, in normal times, would be among the most well-behaved and useful citizens of the country. In spite of this, however, the conscientious objector's position is not quite so unreasonable, very often, as his critics are apt to imagine. A good many people, the longer the war continues and the more critical the country's position becomes, tend to become increasingly impatient with the conscientious objector and increasingly prone to ride roughshod over what they consider his prejudiced views. They would, however, do well to realize that the conscientious objector not unnaturally views the progress of the war in a very different light. It appears to him that at different stages in the war he has seen the prospects of a Fascist victory and the prospects of a Communist victory, but not, so far, a prospect of a victory in which freedom and democracy will play a very important part. Moreover, even in his own country he has seen a steady increase in State tyranny, vice, crime and disease.

The position has been rather well summed up by a friend of mine who, though physically blind, possesses more true spiritual insight than 90 per cent. of ordinary people at the present time. Putting this side of the case from the conscientious objector's point of view, she says; War and Nazism are but two forms of the same thing. Both are based on precisely the same principle—namely, that it is right to resort to ruthless brutality on the off chance of bringing about thereby some end alleged to be good or necessary. Both have to teach the use of brutal methods. War's tyrannies are not so easily recognized as such because, with the usual human genius for self-deception, they are camouflaged under such euphemistic terms as ' compulsory National Service' and 'Defence of the Realm.' The war god is cleverer than Hitler in concealing the very existence of the chains wherewith he binds the body and mind of each of his captives.

Many people are exasperated at the idea that the conscientious objector is having a safer and easier time than the serving soldier. Apart, however, from the fact that many conscientious objectors out of generosity of spirit are anxious, if the Government will allow them and so far as circumstances permit, to share the dangers and hardships of the serving soldier, if there is a case for equality of sacrifice it is surely not so much in the direction of the conscientious objector who opposes war and would end the war if possible, by a negotiated peace, as in the direction of those members of the Government and Members of Parliament who were instrumental in declaring war and refused to consider the question of a negotiated peace. It may be a matter of opinion whether they are right or wrong, but there; can be no doubt whatever as to the fact of their responsibility for the privations and dangers experienced by Servicemen. Again, some people are irritated by what they regard as the inconsistency of conscientious objectors in paying taxes which are largely used for war purposes and eating food which is brought over the sea at the risk of seamen's lives. But here again the responsibility is surely with the Government which compels citizens to pay taxes and uses those taxes for war purposes. It is also the responsibility of the Government that by reason of conditions of war seamen's lives are in great danger.

Then there is another important issue. The factors which will decide the issues of this war, or some of them, are plainly what happens in Russia, our ability, or otherwise, to overcome the submarine menace, and the ability or otherwise of the Axis to make use of the advantage of their economic strength and of holding the interior lines of communication. It will not depend on the way in which we treat a few hundred or even a few thousand conscientious objectors; therefore we might just as well, surely, treat these people decently. Again, the morale of the Army and the efficiency of the war industry is not likely to be improved by forcing into them people whose hearts are not in their job. Mr. Bevin is reported to have said not long ago that we can afford to be tolerant to stubborn pacifists as men resolute against fighting do not make good fighters, and we want no bullying of sincere objectors. It must be remembered, too, that most conscientious objectors in their ordinary civilian occupations are already doing useful work, and it is, moreover, especially stupid when a pig-headed tribunal dealing with a conscientious objector who is perfectly willing to perform one useful kind of National Service insists on ordering him to do another, with the result that when he refuses he is sent to prison and the country gets no work out of him at all.

These people who have a perfect passion for shifting the largest possible number of people out of their present occupations in the sacred name of National Service, would do well to remember that you do not necessarily assist the country by turning a hundred efficient clerks into a hundred inefficient cowmen, or a hundred efficient school teachers into a hundred inefficient forestry workers. In regard to the school teacher question, I might perhaps point out that if in the event of victory the plan is to be put into operation of educating all the children of the Axis and Axis-allied countries, I estimate that we shall need somewhere in the nature of 6,380,000 teachers. If America, as is not impossible, reverts to a policy of isolationism, and Russia does not take up the teaching question very keenly, we may have to provide the lion's share of this stupendous total.

Mr. Ramsay MacDonald during the last war, after visiting a work camp for conscientious objectors, said: There is a large section of men who are doing what is called National Service. They go through the gaol; they are taken out; and they are sent to the land, to road-making, and so on, to do what is called National Service. I was in that neighbourhood at the end of the summer and just looked at the place myself. It was really a most melancholy spectacle. There were these men doing work they were not trained to do. They had just come out of gaol where they had been serving on account of their defiance of the Military Service Act. They were quite unskilled in their work; they were soft of muscle; their hands were blistered; their backs were sore; and some of them had to go away on account of heart trouble, because of the strain from the heavy work. My point is that that was not national work. It was not useful work, because it could have been done far better by other men, working half the time at double the wages; and they could have taken half the time to finish the job. There was no enthusiasm on the part of these men in their work; there was no incentive in the work. The men simply felt that they were being punished and that they were asked to do this because the State wished to punish them. These men have got their conscientious convictions. Many of them said to me: 'It would be the greatest pleasure in life to us if we could do what others are doing but we cannot do it. We want to do something. We are teachers; we are clerks; we have been accustomed to run shops, and so on, and we want to help the nation in work which we are capable of doing, but instead we are shoved on to this impossible task and asked to do work out of which we cannot get any satisfaction. My appeal is not for a soft heart, but hardness of head. My appeal is not for sympathy for these men, but for common-sense treatment.

In regard to conscientious objection to fire-watching many people feel, of course, that it is absolutely ridiculous for anyone to object to putting out fires, but here again there is more to be said for the conscientious objector's point of view than meets the eye. He not unnaturally contends that if the Government do not want fires caused by air raids they have the alternative of ending by a negotiated peace the war which is the cause of the air raids and the fires, or if they do not go so far as that they might at least try to explore the possibility of coming to some arrangement with the enemy with regard to avoiding as far as possible the bombing of non-military objectives. I may say that I find throughout the country in quarters which are not in the least opposed to the war, a growing feeling in favour of such a measure, against which there is no reasonable or adequate objection. Mr. Herbert Morrison and Miss Wilkinson have made it very plain by their speeches that conscription for fire-watching was instituted in order to free men for the Fighting Services and for making munitions. Very naturally a sincere conscientious objector who holds war to be wrong objects to having himself used in order that other men may be free cither to kill or be killed. Many conscientious objectors feel that if they come under any compulsory Government scheme they may be ordered to fire-watch on premises used for military purposes. A good many objectors to fire-watching are conscientious objectors who proved their genuineness in the last war.

A particularly idiotic state of affairs arises in the case of those conscientious objectors who are perfectly willing to do fire-watching in a voluntary capacity and are in fact doing so. These people in some cases have been sent to prison with the result that other people have to be found to do the work which they were doing. George Elphick, a conditionally-registered conscientious objector at Lewes, is undergoing a sort of cat-and-mouse treatment in regard to fire-watching. In December, 1941, he was fined £5 for refusing to fire-watch under compulsory orders. He served 28 days' imprisonment instead. In April, 1942, he was again prosecuted for continued refusal to fire-watch and was fined £5, which was paid by a friend because of the threat of distraint. In May, 1942, he was prosecuted for the third time for maintaining his attitude. He was fined £5 with the alternative of 28 days' imprisonment, and served the imprisonment, losing his job in consequence. In October, 1942, Lewes Town Council, on the advice of the Regional Commissioner's Office, decided not to take any further action, but a month later Councillor Whittington, who had protested against the earlier decision, claimed that feeling in the town was very strong and the decision was reversed unanimously. Elphick received a further notice to report for fire-watching duty, but he still refused and was sentenced to 28 days' imprisonment, which he served, being released on 15th February. He is still liable to a further prosecution and imprisonment.

Two Church ministers have been imprisoned for failure to register for civil defence. The Rev. Sidney Spencer, a Unitarian minister, of Liverpool, was sentenced to one month's imprisonment; on two previous occasions fines for refusing to register had been paid for him anonymously; while Walter Abbott, Minister of Carrington Baptist Church, Nottingham, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment and a further three months if he did not pay a fine of £100 for failure to register. Three members of the Friends War Relief Service living in Kentish Town were fined at the North London Police Court for failing to register but accepted the alternative of imprisonment. Another member of the Friends War Relief Service, who explained his inability to register on grounds of conscience, to the St. Albans City Police Court, was merely fined one shilling; yet earlier that day the same Court had fined twelve members of the Christadelphian Church £2 or £4 each. Some of them had previously been prosecuted for a similar offence. Up till February 22 eighteen women conscientious objectors had been prosecuted for refusing compulsory fire-watching. Of these at least six have gone to prison, three of whom are Quakers, including a lady doctor, Dr. Kathleen Lonsdale, of West Drayton, a research worker in X-ray crystallography, who is now in Holloway Prison. One of the most revolting features of the present state of affairs is the way in which members of the Society of Friends are being sent to prison, including even women and young girls. Even Hitler, I understand, shows consideration for a body of people whose religious sincerity and whose magnificent record for social service is recognized throughout the world. If this state of affairs is not remedied, when the history of the war is written these episodes will stand to the lasting disgrace of those who are responsible. Magistrates here are by no means greatly to blame. They have to carry out the law and sometimes they have expressed their regret in having to do so. It is the Government and the Government alone who are responsible.

With regard to conscientious objection to industrial conscription the conscientious objector often feels that a State, one of whose major war aims is the overthrow of State tyranny, is obviously making a fatal mistake if in order to achieve its ends it sets up the very thing which it set out to remove in an accentuated form. This view is greatly strengthened by the growing number of persons in different political Parties who are saying quite openly that some of the worst features of State tyranny should be retained after the war. More than that, quite outside Government circles, many of that kind of person who has the typical "tyrant" mind are clamouring for the suppression of expression of opinion by everyone who differs from them whether it be on political or strategic matters. Whatever the military result of the war may be, the conscientious objectors, whose views I share, see Hitlerism, in the bad sense of the term, winning rapidly in the hearts and minds of our own people.

Some conscientious objectors cannot take their orders for industrial conscription from religious motives; they feel that the work they are at present doing is work to which they have been called by God. This indeed would have been my own position during the last war, although I did not then realize that all war is wrong. I joined the work of the Y.M.C.A. in August, 1914, and if any attempt had been made to force me from it I would certainly have gone to prison. Sometimes also the conscientious objector may feel that he, or more often she, has a duty to look after some sick relative, and I am sorry to say that the hardships committees often display the utmost callousness in depriving some invalid of absolutely essential help for which he or she can get no substitute whatever. An unpleasant example of the brutal treatment of a conscientious objector in the last war, combined with an amusing but all too rare example of a chairman of a tribunal who would not allow his private opinion to affect the justice of his decisions, is provided by a case which came before the South Wales Tribunal on November 30. Ithel Davies, a well-known Swansea barrister, formerly a candidate for Parliament, told the tribunal that in the last war he had been rejected by the tribunals and had spent three years in prison. Describing his experience in a military prison he said: for four days I was hit about savagely. I had a broken nose there; and I was beaten about until I collapsed more than once….This war, like the last, is a sordid game in pursuit of sordid objectives. After describing the applicant's views and quotations as "rubbish" and "potted nonsense," the chairman of the tribunal announced that there would be unconditional registration.

Some members of tribunals show such extreme prejudice against all conscientious objectors that I am often tempted to feel that they richly deserve a taste of their own medicine of imprisonment. Others show a special prejudice against certain classes of conscientious objector. Some deal reasonably well with those who claim conditional exemption, but when a claim for absolute exemption comes before them they begin to browbeat and bully in the most disgraceful fashion, although the law provides for the absolute conscientious objector, and he may be quite as sincere as any other. Some tribunals have a special prejudice against Jehovah's Witnesses. I must say that the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses seems to me to be lamentable, and their objections to participation in war when based on that theology to be very weak indeed. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true, I believe, that such people are usually perfectly sincere and there is not the slightest reason why we should tolerate their being treated with special severity. Sir Nevile Henderson, in a White Paper, pointed out as a proof of the wicked and irreligious character of the Nazi regime, that Hitler was putting a number of Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps for refusing conscription; yet here we are doing the same thing, and nobody seems to turn a hair.

Some tribunals have a special prejudice against conscientious objectors who seek the legal aid to which they are perfectly entitled. Others deal fairly enough with conscientious objectors on religious grounds but refuse to recognize equally sincere conscientious objection on the part of those whose objections are political or ethical. Sometimes, and here perhaps the wording of the Acts may be partly responsible, a tribunal refuses to see that a conscientious objector may not have a sincere objection to participation in all war but may have a perfectly sincere objection to participation in this war. He may, for example, feel that war on the Polish issue is a blunder which, if continued, is likely to land the British Empire in disaster. He may also be technically a British subject but be of German or Italian parentage. Or, again, it may be that he is married to a German or Italian wife, and he may feel that he cannot take part in a war which may involve him in killing his wife's relations, from whom he may have received great kindness. Obviously in such cases conditional exemption should be allowed, as almost always these classes of objectors are perfectly willing to take up some alternative service.

Several outstanding examples of unsuitable persons who have officiated on tribunals may be cited. Judge Richardson, head of the Newcastle Tribunal, has said publicly that conscientious objectors should be cold-shouldered after the war. The decisions of his tribunal show what little chance of justice a conscientious objector has under such a Judge. Brigadier General Bagnal-Wild, presiding magistrate at the Nottinghamshire Hall, replied "Do not talk twaddle" to a religious objector who said that he followed Jesus Christ. No doubt Christianity does sound twaddle to the unjust Judge. Sir William Prescott, who, as Chairman of the Tottenham Bench, regularly sentenced conscientious objectors to the maximum penalties, recently gave proof of his devotion to the national cause when he was fined £500 for what the prosecution called "flagrant and gross evasion of petrol rationing In Edinburgh, on the appellate tribunal, Lord Elphinstone on three occasions told a friend of mine that the National Service Acts do not permit of unconditional exemption. When the clause in the Acts granting unconditional exemption was quoted to him, he replied: "We are the final judges and we say that there can be no unconditional exemption." This is an abuse of function, for Lord Elphinstone was appointed under the very Act that says clearly that unconditional exemption can be granted. Mrs. A. J. Bailey, a Sheffield woman magistrate, told three conscientious objectors who on a former occasion had already been fined £5 each: "It is a pity that we cannot send you to Germany for a year; then you would have a taste of Hitler's methods." The men were then given a taste of Hitler's methods over here, by being all sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment. It seems to me to be a pity that Mrs. Bailey does not consider joining the Russian Air Force. I remember some time ago hearing of an article entitled ' My Aunt was a Bomber Pilot." Surely a Valkyrie like Mrs. Bailey would make a much better bomber pilot than member of a tribunal. A lady of such ferocity employed on the Eastern Front, would very likely be more than the equivalent of a Second Front somewhere else in Europe.

Some attempt was made to end an unpleasant situation by introducing a measure to deal with what has been known as "cat-and-mouse treatment." Under this conscientious objectors who have served sentences of imprisonment after a. certain period are allowed to appear again before an appellate tribunal. Un-fortunately, however, the protection given is only partial. Sometimes the Army authorities may evade this regulation by giving sentences of detention, which are not the same as sentences of imprisonment, and sometimes an appellate tribunal may decide to adhere to its original prejudice, or to support another tribunal in its prejudice—and I am afraid that it often is prejudice, and not the recognition of lack of sincerity in the objector. In a Herefordshire N.C.C. unit, Courts Martial have recently given sentences of detention, precluding conscientious objectors from an appeal to the appellate tribunal. Amongst others, L. Jacob, who had served 28 days' detention and 93 days' imprisonment, was sentenced last December to nine months' further detention. In December, Ernest Thompson, who was sentenced earlier to 56 days' detention, received six months' detention from a Court Martial under the same President. Gilbert Lane was sentenced for the fifth time on December 31, and, although his earlier sentences had been 28 days' detention, three months' imprisonment, six months' detention and 93 days' imprisonment, he was sentenced to eighteen months' detention. All these and other cases were deprived of further opportunity of appeal, and it is alleged that the Court Martial President showed great hostility towards them. I gather that the War Office are investigating this matter.

Stanley Hilton, of Rochdale, was sentenced by his first Court Martial to one year's imprisonment, and his application to the tribunal was dismissed. His second Court Martial sentence was two years' detention, which did not qualify him to apply again, although after strong representations on his behalf the unexpired balance of his sentence was remitted in February, 1942. Twenty days later, Hilton was court-martialled for the third time, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Whilst serving this, his application to the appellate tribunal was again dismissed, and he is still serving the balance of this sentence in Durham prison. Gerald Henderson, of West Hartlepool, has been court-martialled five times, and sentenced to 28 days' detention, four months' imprisonment, six months' imprisonment, seven months' imprisonment and fifteen months with hard labour. Three times he has applied to the appellate tribunal for the review of his conscientious objection, and three times his application has been dismissed. Finally, in November, 1942, the Northern division of the appellate tribunal decided that Henderson was a genuine conscientious objector and registered him conditionally upon doing full-time land, hospital or ambulance work. The balance of his sentence was remitted, and he was released from the Army. If the original tribunal who first heard Henderson's case had realized the genuineness of his conscientious objection, Henderson could have been doing useful work all the months that he has spent in prison.

An extraordinary case, which shows the muddle in Government Departments when dealing with a conscientious objector, is that of Leigh Fisher, of Hamilton, in Scotland. Fisher was turned down by the local and appellate tribunals on the ground that his convictions, though sincere, were political. He was convicted and sentenced to thirty days' imprisonment by the Sheriff Court in November, 1941. News of this sentence caused his aged grandmother to have a stroke, from which she later died. To enable Fisher to attend her funeral, further medical papers were held up. After this, Fisher signed on at the Hamilton Labour Exchange, where he was offered housing work, which he accepted, making sure that it was understood that he was a conscientious objector. His superior on the job confirmed that it was all right, and that it was Government work and that the Government had sent him to it. Immediately following this, the same labour exchange through another officer, sent him further papers for medical examination. Fisher appealed against this, but his appeal was turned down by the High Court. Fisher's superior on the housing work said that his work was indispensable and was Government work, and that he must be reserved. He was then sent to the same labour exchange for a reservation form, which was duly filled in and sent to the Ministry of Labour, and Fisher was told that everything was in order. Despite this he was sentenced at the Hamilton Sheriff Court to twelve months' imprisonment. He served part of this sentence in Edinburgh, but, on appeal as a conscientious objector, was released by the Edinburgh appellate tribunal, on the condition that he returned to the work which he was doing before conviction or took up building work, Lord Elphinstone stating that Fisher was reserved at the time of his sentence, which should, therefore, never have been imposed at all.

Fisher went again to the labour exchange and was told that he was no longer needed on his former job, that there was no building work available, and that he must take work in a mortuary. He pointed out that this was not in accordance with the conditions laid down by the tribunal, but the labour exchange told him that this did not matter and had nothing to do with them, and that if he did not accept this work he could have no other. He did not accept it, as it was not in accordance with what he had been told to do. Eventually he was ordered, with threats of further imprisonment, to take up building work at Kin-lochleven by the same Ministry which had previously offered him only employment which was not in accordance with his exemption conditions.

The incompetence and unfairness of local tribunals are plainly shown by the fact that, although the appellate tribunals themselves are anything but beyond criticism, in nearly half the cases which have come before them the decisions of the local tribunals have been reversed, nearly always in favour of the appellants. It is a matter of great surprise and regret to me that so little care should be taken by the responsible Ministers and other persons with regard to the composition of tribunals, especially as some of these Ministers and other responsible persons have, in the past, been determined opponents both of conscription and of war.

The position in New Zealand, I understand, is even worse, in spite of the fact that several members of the present Labour Government were themselves persecuted as conscientious objectors in the last war. The treatment there is, I understand, ever harsher and more unfair than it is over here. Some seven hundred men are reported to have been sent, so far, to prison or detention camps, and several pacifist leaders have been imprisoned for up to two years for publishing pacifist pamphlets. In the worst detention camp, a small group of eight to ten conscientious objectors who met in a regular Bible class, on refusing to agree to an edict by the authorities that they should not discuss subjects connected with the war and post-war reconstruction, were sent to gaol. Such a state of affairs almost makes one despair of human nature in general, and of the human nature of Socialist politicians in particular.

One of the most unpleasant features of industrial conscription is the number of women who are persecuted by heavy fines and imprisonment. A typical case is that of Alice Stubbings, of Shelton, Staffordshire, who was convicted at Tunstall Police Court on April 2, 1942, for failing to comply with a direction of the Ministry of Labour to take up work as a cleaner at the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary, and was fined £2 with two guineas costs. She refused to pay, as she stated that the offence had been committed on grounds of conscience. On May 11 she was summoned to appear again at the Tunstall Police Court on a charge that, having been convicted and having failed to comply, she did continue to fail to carry out the direction. This laid her open to a fine of £5 a day while the offence continued. She was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, and the fine and costs imposed at the earlier hearing were commuted to twenty-eight days' imprisonment, to run concurrently with the other sentence. Even when Mrs. Stubbings was released from prison she remained liable to further prosecution. In this connexion I would call attention to the fact that Mr. Bevin said in another place on December 9, 1941: Some women will be so absolute in their conscientious objection that they will not touch anything associated with war. They will be regarded as absolutionists and they will not be directed.

Another flagrant case was that of a Quaker girl, Mary Cockcroft, only nineteen years of age, who would not accept industrial conscription on grounds of conscience. She could not go before a tribunal, because only women between the ages of twenty and thirty-one, who are liable for military conscription, are allowed to do so. On July 1, 1942, she was fined £10 and then given another direction, and for maintaining her consistent attitude was prosecuted again on October 14 before the same court, which imposed a fine of £20 and two guineas costs. As she refused to pay the fine she was sent to prison for two months. I have seen this girl. She is a more child, a simple and sincere person, and again I say that such a persecution, especially of a member of the Society of Friends, is iniquitous. She, too, was one of the people who told me of the extremely bad food that is given in prison.

The only adequate remedy for this state of affairs is the recognition of conscientious objection to industrial conscription and to fire-watching, much greater care with regard to the personnel of tribunals and the appointment on appellate tribunals of a majority of persons who, while quite willing to turn down obvious cases which are not genuine, are sympathetic towards the conscientious objectors' position and are not mainly concerned with securing the largest possible number of people for the Services and war work. Those who think that this arrangement might result in too large a number of conscientious objectors being let off would do well to bear in mind the words of Professor G. C. Field, a member of the South Western Local Tribunal, who said: Whatever we may think of their judgment, the vast majority are perfectly honest people. The real shirker does arise but normally speaking such persons are extremely rare. It is better to allow a few frauds to escape rather than to punish a large number of the innocent.

In conclusion I would remind your Lordships of the words of the late Lord Bryce: The primary duty of any citizen of a democracy is to refuse to obey a law which his conscience deems to be bad. Dr. John Clifford said: All our liberties are due to men who, when their conscience has compelled them, have broken the laws of the land. Mrs. Roosevelt, when asked a little while ago what she thought serving soldiers would feel about conscientious objectors, replied: I should think that the boys who go through the war and who believe in what they are doing would have a respect for a conscientious objector who had an equally strong belief that he should not kill other people. We have put these conscientious objectors to work in this war. They are clamouring for more dangerous work. Some of them are already doing work which requires great courage, but not the taking of another man's life. It would certainly seem a. curious thing to me if a boy were not able to understand, having had deep convictions himself, that other people have a right to equally deep convictions, and that they should be respected. And finally I would remind you of what Mr. Winston Churchill has said: The rights which have been granted in this war and the last to conscientious objectors are well known and are a definite part of British policy. Anything in the nature of persecution, victimization or man-hunting is odious to the British people. Whether the Prime Minister was right in saying that victimization and man-hunting are odious to the British people, or whether he should rather have said they ought to be odious to the British people, will be shown by the test of whether Parliament is or is not prepared to remedy a very grave evil. I trust, anyhow, that no one will be deterred from doing this by-anticipating that a certain wrong-headed section of public opinion, influenced by the less reputable organs of the Press, would raise some clamour of protest. Anyone who feels himself inclined to take heed of such protests would do well to remember that by doing so he places himself in the same company as Pontius Pilate, who allowed himself to be intimidated by the spiteful clamour of the wrong-headed mob into condemning to torture and death the Son of God him-' self. I beg to move the Resolution standing in my name.

Moved to resolve, That the right to conscientious objection to fire-watching and to work ordered by the Ministry of Labour be henceforward recognized and that appellate tribunals should contain a majority of persons who, while fully prepared to recognize and reject the appeals of persons who are not genuine, have sympathy for the position of the sincere objector, whatever the grounds for his objection.—(The Duke of Bedford.)


My Lords, I desire to raise a point of order arising out of one passage in the noble Duke's speech, in which he made certain reflections upon the action taken in one of the self-governing Dominions—namely, New Zealand. It is, I think, a well understood practice in both Houses of Parliament that no discussions should be raised at Westminster on any matter relating to the internal affairs of the self-governing Dominions, and especially that there should be no animadversions made against the Government of one of the Dominions, seeing especially that it is quite impossible that any reply could be given in this House. In these circumstances I feel sure that your Lordships would desire to take notice of the matter, in order that it should not be said in New Zealand or any other of the Dominions that the rule had been infringed and no comment made upon it.


My Lords, I was going to say a word with regard to the point of order that has been raised by the noble Viscount, and I may say on behalf of my noble friend who is going to reply that he also had been meaning to deal with that point. It is to my mind a matter of the utmost importance that we in this House should not presume to deal with matters which are the concern of His Majesty's Governments in the other Dominions. It is utterly contrary to the whole Constitution on which the British Empire stands. I imagine that the noble Duke was not aware of that particular fact; but I hope that in the many controversies which are dealt with in this House that point will be kept most seriously in mind by all members of the House. It would be a deplorable thing and could only do harm to the structure of the Empire if such controversies as are raised in the noble Duke's speech arose.


My Lords, I should like on behalf of my friends to associate myself with what the Leader of the House has said on that very important point.


My Lords, I desire to move the rejection of this Motion, but before doing so may I be permitted on behalf of your Lordships to welcome back our noble Leader, Lord Cranborne, to our midst after his illness? I am sure we are all very pleased to see him here again and are very happy that he is once-more restored to health. Your Lordships will not be surprised at the speech we have listened to this afternoon, coming from the noble Duke. In the past few months he has made several speeches of a similar nature in your Lordships' House. His speeches have on every occasion been directed towards what I may frankly call helping the enemy. He has spoken to us about a negotiated peace, he to-day referred once more to a negotiated peace, whilst his speech was concerned almost entirely with trying to assist a certain section of the community to evade and to avoid all its civic duties. Well, every man has a right to his own opinion, but when in war-time his country is fighting for its very existence, and for all it holds dear against a determined and ruthless foe, who makes no effort to disguise the nature of the ferocious treatment he will mete out if he wins, and is showing every day that treatment in the countries which he has conquered, I have no hesitation in saying in the presence of the noble Duke—I prefer to say it in his presence—that, bearing all this in mind, his whole attitude towards this war is one that every-patriotic man and woman in this country deeply resents and, I might also say, despises.

I now turn to the terms of the Motion. The noble Duke's Motion is divided into two parts. One is concerned with suggesting the right of the conscientious objector to escape fire-watching and work ordered by the Ministry of Labour—in fact, any work at all of any nature which he wishes to avoid. The second part of the Motion refers to the composition of the appellate tribunals. The speech of the noble Duke was mainly concerned with the treatment meted out to conscientious objectors in prison and the conditions under which they are held in prison. The other part of his speech was chiefly confined to accusing the tribunals of unjust sentences. Indeed it seemed to me, as I listened to his speech, that it was aimed at trying to stir up in the hearts of your Lordships a very deep sympathy with conscientious objectors in order to gain the other part of his Motion, which is to get them off doing any duty at all. My feeling is that it would have been much better if the noble Duke had presented a Motion concerned with the treatment of conscientious objectors after incarceration, or in cases where he considered they had not been properly sentenced, because in any assembly in this country—certainly in Parliament—you will always find that those present are prepared to consider cases where ill-treatment may have been meted out. But to come here to-day and put all these cases with the object of trying to change the mind of Parliament with respect to the duties of conscientious objectors after they have escaped military and police duties, is not the usual procedure adopted in Parliament. The rôle which the noble Duke now sets out for conscientious objectors is, I submit, the most perfect one for any individual who wishes to skulk behind his neighbours and do nothing to defend or help his country or himself.

I should like to go back to the National Service Act, 1941. The Second Reading of that measure was taken in your Lordships' House on April.3, 1941. I wish to read a short extract from the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who was speaking for the Government on that occasion, setting out the position with regard to ordinary citizens in this country as well as the conscientious objectors. This is what the noble Lord said: I need not go into detail in commending this Bill to your Lordships' attention, but you may take my word for it that His Majesty's Government feel that the need does exist and that every effort has been made to meet that need in certain areas on a volunteer basis. Therefore, this Bill brings with it an element of compulsion. First of all, it makes liable to Civil Defence Service all those who are liable for service in the Armed Forces under the National Service Act of 1939; and secondly, the Bill seeks to impose similar liability upon those who have been registered under the Act as conscientious objectors on condition that they take up work under civilian control. It is not required that conscientious objectors should serve in the police, as that might involve the bearing of arms. Following upon that the noble Lord, Lord Snell, went on to say: This Bill does not ask the conscientious objector to defile his conscience by undertaking military service; it asks him to share with his fellows the task of carrying on the civil life upon which his own liberty and the liberty of us all depends.…. But, if a man must revere the decisions of his own conscience, he must also beware lest he elevate one conception of duty in a limited sphere to the neglect of other moral obligations to the community and to Right itself. The noble Duke to-day has gone beyond what was then expressed by Lord Snell. It seems to me that he has an entire misconception of what the duty of a citizen of any country is. On the one hand, he suggests that 99.9 per cent. of the people of this country must, and shall, undertake duties of any character whatsoever which they may be told to do in order to defend this country and save it from the enemy. On the other hand, he claims that the remaining. 1 per cent. of the people shall be absolved from all these duties, that they should take no responsibility at all upon their shoulders except the responsibilities which they assume of their own accord, and which they themselves consider right.

On the Second Reading of that measure I made a short speech, and at the end of it I said this: I hope …. it will not be understood, because of certain provisions in it regarding conscientious objectors, that it is intended as a Bill to make things easier for conscientious objectors than they already are; and I hope that His Majesty's Government will take perhaps a rather more severe opinion on this subject than that expressed by the noble Lord (Lord Snell) this afternoon, because unless they do I fear not only for the future but also for the present. To-day we have one further result of this Act in the noble Duke's representations. Even the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who admitted he was a pacifist—"a pacifist is, if you like," using his own words, "a conscientious objector, you may make the two terms interchangeable"—said this: In my view, the duties to be enforced under this Bill are not duties to which, at any rate, my own conscience would take any exception whatever. They are duties which, in my view, are more in the nature of acts of good neighbourliness than acts of military service. That was very well expressed, and I wish to acknowledge here to-day that since Lord Faringdon made that speech he has appeared in this House in National Fire Service uniform on a number of occasions.

It is commonly agreed, I believe, that all decent able-bodied citizens will go out of their way to perform fire-guard and fire-watching duties, but not so the conscientious objectors. We know, because we have heard it and we have been told again this afternoon, that they consider it a right to be protected by their fellow-citizens not only in their person but also in their property. Thus, in their latest claim they are benefiting from their fellow-countrymen risking and perhaps losing their lives in the air and on the sea. They take all this as a matter of course, and not only do not acknowledge the benefit that they are receiving but ask for more. They do not wish to do a hand's turn themselves to guard property from fire, whether their own property or not. They do not wish to guard from fire even the foodstuffs which come from overseas and are brought here at great risk to the lives of our sailors and airmen, but they are willing to eat this food when it has been brought here. They seem to be entirely oblivious of all the risk that has been undertaken in bringing it to this country.

Indeed, it would seem as if conscientious objectors were trying to create a position for themselves, assisted by the noble Duke, under which they will have a fully-fledged Beveridge scheme of their own with no responsibilities whatsoever. From the cradle to the grave they are to bear no responsibilities. Like the lilies of the field they are not to toil, neither are they to spin. They appear to wish to become the pampered darlings of the community. This is the sort of picture, in other words, which has been presented to us this afternoon by the noble Duke. I feel sure that the country is quite prepared to see that any obviously unfair treatment which may be meted out to these conscientious objectors when in prison is thoroughly investigated and righted where possible, but it will not accept the suggestions of the noble Duke that these people should be exempt from all duties, which every citizen ought to be glad to perform. So far as the position of the appellate tribunals are concerned, from what I know of them they are composed of men of great integrity and distinction and men of fairness and justice. The noble Duke referred several times to the noble Lord, Lord Elphinstone, and to certain judgments given in his Court. If your Lordships knew, as I do, the time and care and thought and trouble which Lord Elphinstone has given to this subject as the head of a tribunal during the past four years you would resent the suggestions that were made by the noble Duke, as I do, that Lord Elphinstone has acted in any other way than as a gentleman at the head of this tribunal.

I cannot believe that the Government will let the noble Duke have his way over this claim to exempt conscientious objectors from these duties to which he has referred. I cannot think that they can do so in fairness or justice to the rest of the community. The noble Duke complains that a man is taken from one service to another and that he does not like it and complains that he is sent to serve in some other capacity in some other part of the country. But this is being done every day to many people in this country and why not to conscientious objectors? Why should they, of all people, be exempt from the ordinary law that has been passed at this time in order to further the terrific war effort in which we are engaged? I feel sure that the Government cannot accept the noble Duke's Resolution. In any case, I wish to say here and now that I am prepared, at the end of the discussion on this Resolution, to press the matter to a Division unless the noble Duke unequivocally withdraws and understands the feeling in this House, which I am sure is overwhelmingly against his Motion. I beg to move its rejection.


May I explain? There is no necessity to move the rejection. At the end of the discussion the noble Duke will either ask leave to withdraw his Motion or he will not. If he does not ask leave to withdraw his Motion, the Motion will be put to the vote and be dealt with. If the noble Duke does beg leave to withdraw his Motion it is possible for any of your Lordships to refuse to give it to him. Again, that would produce a Division. That would be unusual, but there is no question of putting an Amendment now.


My Lords, I should like to say, if I may, that I do not know what course the noble Duke will pursue at the end of this debate, but I earnestly hope, even if he does ask leave to withdraw the Motion, the House will not allow him to do so, and will refuse unanimously, perhaps with the exception of the noble Duke himself.


May I ask the noble and learned Viscount this? He said that the original Motion would be withdrawn, or not withdrawn, and the Division would take place on that Motion. Surely, as I have moved an Amendment—


There is no Amendment.


An Amendment as a rejection of the Motion.


There is no Amendment. The noble Viscount will vote "Not-Content," of course.


My Lords, although I cannot associate myself with all the noble Duke has said, I think he has done good service in bringing once again before this House certain questions connected with the problem, the very real problem, of conscientious objection. I have not previously spoken to your Lordships on this subject although I take a deep interest in it. I may say, parenthetically, that I myself am a Christian Pacifist because I feel sure that such was the attitude towards war adopted by the Christian Church during practically the first three centuries of its existence, a practice adopted, as it believed, in consequence of the teaching of its founder. Because of my sympathies I have watched somewhat carefully the working of the tribunals, to which I have been more than once. I have seen at camps young men in training for the Friends' Ambulance Unit, and in addition from time to time have spoken with those who have been in prison. On the whole I think that it can be said that the tribunals are fair; they endeavour to be fair. They at times make mistakes, but we are all human and mistakes are to be expected.

As I see the matter, it is the duty of the Government by the use of administrative right—we have come to recognize its existence, I believe, during the war, although in the old days when I read Dicey I was told it existed in France and not in this country—to introduce a certain elasticity and so end what are real though occasional scandals at the present time. I am sure that your Lordships all agree when you think of this matter dispassionately that the majority of young men who are conscientious objectors to war do not lack moral or physical courage. The need of moral courage is very great for a young man in these days, especially if he has been at one of our public schools, if he is to become a conscientious objector. When the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, was assuming that no conscientious objector had physical courage or was willing to put out a fire, I thought of a story which happens to be true of two men of the Friends' Ambulance Unit during the "blitz" on the East End of London in 1940. They were standing with their tin hats on looking at a church on which a number of incendiaries had fallen, and they were saying to one another "Ought we to put them out?" The query arose not from any hesitation as to the necessity of preventing the burning of property but from their attitude as to the theological value of a very "high" church. The end of the story your Lordships will like. They thought, in spite of their theological convictions, that they ought to put out the incendiaries, and they received a letter of thanks from the incumbent.

That I think is typical of the attitude of the majority of these young men. They have been given freedom from military service and they are doing their best to serve their country under such conditions as circumstances will allow. There has been in the administration of our law with regard to all such young men great success, although occasionally tribunals make mistakes. A man comes before an appeal tribunal, is turned down, goes to prison and may go to prison several times. Is that a necessity? Cannot we by some elasticity prevent such a calamity? A few weeks ago I visited His Majesty's prison in Birmingham, and I may say that that particular prison and some others of which I have personal knowledge is excellently run. The food, though simple, is not unwholesome, and according to the information which I have received from those who have been prisoners in it conditions are good. I was visiting a conscientious objector in the prison when the Chaplain drew my attention to a man who was there who, he thought, should not have been there. I saw the man. He was the son of a Quaker who was a conscientious objector in the last war. He told me his father served two years' imprisonment in Wakefield gaol. This young man had been sentenced four times to periods of imprisonment, at first two periods of three months and then one of nine months. They had given him the best job within prison walls—assisting in the library—and he smilingly admitted that the authorities had done all they could for him. Here was a Quaker imprisoned four times, and one does not know how many more sentences of imprisonment may come. Surely it is a mistake. Such imprisonment does no service to the community. If it is generally known that a young man of that type has been serving in prison it takes away the stigma which imprisonment ought to have. I wrote about this case to the Minister of Labour. I confess that the answer which I received did not seem to me to be wholly satisfactory, and I still hope that the Minister of Labour or his secretariat will feel it possible to direct that no further proceedings be taken against that particular young man when he is released.

I come now to the new question that has arisen in connexion with compulsory fire-watching and the like. There I personally think it the duty of every citizen to help the State to the best of his ability, if he is not compelled to do something like taking part in warfare, which is obviously contrary to a strong body of religious teaching. On the other hand, constantly young people are being told that they are helping the war effort if they are fire-watching. The Fire Service in which the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, takes part is in the opinion of some of those here a part of the war effort. Because of that fact women of great earnestness and high character feel that to be enrolled for fire-watching would be helping the war effort and they refuse. Call it sheer obstinacy if you like, but obstinacy based on conscientious conviction. Is it not possible, when, say, a woman has once been before a court for refusal to fire-watch or the like and has been fined or imprisoned, the Ministry concerned shall direct that that particular person, whose honesty of conviction is not in question, shall not again be brought before a court? I think if such action were taken—and the cases affected would be relatively few—it would take from our present legal administration a stigma which is unfortunate.


My Lords, I will not keep you more than four minutes. I do not want to go into theological discussions with the right reverend Prelate, but I must refer to his statement just now that the teachings of the Church were against war. Your Lordships will know that one of the Commandments says "Thou shalt do no murder." It does not say "Thou shalt not kill." We are now engaged in a war and killing those who are murdering innocent people on the Continent. The inference that there is a bias by chairmen of tribunals against conscientious objectors is not correct. They are all men of integrity and they carry out their duties conscientiously. On the appeal tribunals, and on many other tribunals, there are trade unionists and that should be a guarantee, if such is required, of the strict impartiality of judgment which is shown in deciding these unsavoury cases, especially when it is realized that they are members of the Party opposite from which all cranks and conscientious objectors come.

What are the motives of the conscientious objector? They come from religion, politics or cowardice. The tribunals have shown their lack of bias by exempting over 70,000 men on religious grounds. I simply do not believe that there are 70,000 deeply religious young Socialists in this pagan country. With regard to the people referred to in the Motion, the conscientious objectors whom it is suggested should be exempted from fire-watching, I would say: "Why not?" If the politicians were consistent they would allow it. If these gentlemen are permitted, because they have religious objections, to free themselves from the obligation and the honour of fighting for their country, of fighting the enemy in the field, then they should be exempted from fighting in his fire war against us. In my opinion any man who deliberately helps the enemy in this war by refusing to fight is making—to put it very mildly—a great mistake. In any other country but ours he would be put against a wall and shot. Conscientious objectors have, by their conduct, played into the hands of Hitler by causing our Armed Forces to be depleted of nearly three divisions of men.


My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a very short time, for there are other Motions on the Paper. Artists will tell you that if a ray of light is to be well depicted in a painting you must put next to it the deepest shadow possible. Well, I think we had a ray of light from my noble friend who is sitting by my side, and the deepest shadow possible, I am very glad to say, has been contributed by my noble friend Viscount Elibank. This question of conscience is a very difficult one to discuss. People measure consciences by their own and they seem to think that there is a sort of fixed thing, which is a conscience, on which there is a list of things you may do and which you may not do. I do not know if any of your Lordships have a conscientious objection to paying Surtax, because that is a method of supporting the war. I am afraid that I have no conscientious objection against drinking a cap of tea or smoking a pipe, which also helps in the war. Conscience is something very much more delicate and sacred than can be measured by whether you refuse or accept this or that or the other. But to condemn people because they have a respect for conscience, because they reverence conscience, and because they are ready to listen to those who have conscientious objections is a very mistaken idea.

The noble Duke reviewed a good many cases. He just mentioned one case in which I am specially interested because it concerns a man who has been a lifelong conscientious objector; a man who has written books against war and who believes, like me, that by an orgy of force you do not improve the world or your own country. He is a Unitarian minister in Liverpool, and he has refused fire-watching by compulsion. He is a fire-watcher, but directly you say to him: "You have got to be a o fire-watcher," then he says: "I refuse to be dictated to as to what employment I choose in these days." And he has refused. He was fined or given the alternative of imprisonment. Supporters of his, unknown to him, paid the fine. A few months later, he was again charged with refusal, and again fined. Again the fine was paid by strangers and supporters of his. Now he has been charged again, and has been given a month's imprisonment, which, I think, he is serving at this moment. You may say that it is unreasonable and that it is foolish of him to behave like this. You may say it is a lot of fuss about nothing—but it is not so to him. He is obeying the voice of conscience within him, which, as I have said, is something sacred that cannot be ignored. Here is a man, greatly respected, who has led an exemplary life, and you treat him to this cat-and-mouse method, in and out of prison. I am very glad that the noble Duke has brought this instance forward—of course he might have brought many more—because I do not believe that it is the wish or the desire or the intention or the policy of the Government to treat these men in this way. I am sure that it is not. They do not support this in-and-out cat-and-mouse idea of bullying these wretched people simply because they have conscientious objections.

I remember in the last war a very convinced pacifist appearing suddenly in uniform. I said to him "You have changed your mind, then?" He said: "No, I have not, but I have not the courage to be a conscientious objector." The noble Viscount who has been trying to move the rejection of this Motion said that they were all cowards or shirkers.


I never used the word "cowards" or the word "shirkers." But they are shirkers.


Well, I can add, perhaps, even to the noble Viscount's vocabulary. Now it requires enormous courage, not to sit in prison, not to endure physical suffering—


Excuse me, they become martyrs, do they not?


I do not know about that. That is another thing that requires a good deal of definition. But I was talking about the suffering which these people go through from isolation. They are cut adrift from people around them. They are pointed at with scorn and contempt. That is the usual thing that happens. And isolation as compared with the camaraderie and the co-operation enjoyed by those who join up is a very marked and difficult thing really to stand. No, my Lords, I suggest that we ought to give some sort of credit to them and not always sneer at them. I think it requires courage, too, on the part of a member of your Lordships' House to come forward and raise this question because contempt or expressions such as those used by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, make one feel that there is no sympathy for these people and that, on the contrary, it is considered waste of time, waste of energy and waste of thought to pay any sort of attention to them. It is because I wanted to say a word on behalf of my noble friend who has had the courage to bring this matter forward, and on behalf of the right reverend Prelate who has supported him, that I have ventured to take up a few minutes of your Lordships' time before the conclusion of this debate.


My Lords, I rise to give your Lordships the views which His Majesty's Government hold on the Motion which is now before you. I hope that you will not expect me to enter into a maze of detail and to reply to each case which the noble Duke quoted in the course of his speech. My object will merely be to give the view of the Government on both the cases which are mentioned in the Motion—namely, that of fire-watching and that of compulsory work. The Motion moved by the noble Duke, and on which he was so ably supported by his stable companion Lord Ponsonby, seems to imply that a chaotic state of affairs exists in the fire-watching services and in compulsory work duties which is due, in the noble Duke's judgment, to the inability of the tribunals to discharge their duties in a just and reasonable manner. Those were the words that he used. He then proceeded to move a Resolution which asks the Government to recognize the right of conscientious objection to fire-watching and to compulsory work, and alleging the desirability of reforming the appellate tribunals—who incidentally, have nothing whatever to do with cases of these two kinds—by having them composed of a majority of sympathizers, instead of being composed of impartial persons.

Some of your Lordships may recall that it fell to my lot, in 1939, to present to this House for Second Reading the Military Service Act of that year. Under Clause 13 of that Act, which I recall quite clearly to-day, it was laid down specifically that conscientious objection to military service was both recognized and tolerated by the Government. We have not in any way departed from that, nor do we depart from it to-day; but the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards conscientious objectors has since been clarified upon two separate occasions. The Secretary of State for Home Affairs, early in 1941, stated in another place that it was not intended to prescribe that conscientious objectors should be exempted from the general obligations of the Defence Regulations relating to fire-watching. Again, in the same year, and during the passage of the National Service Act, my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour stated that, while conscientious objection to military service was recognized, conscientious objection to direction into a civil occupation was not recognized, and Civil Defence was in fact regarded as a civilian occupation and not as a military service.

I think that those two remarks, made by responsible Ministers, sum up very clearly the views of the Government, from which we are not prepared to depart; nor are we aware of any new circumstances which have arisen since that time which should cause us to make any such departure. It is not my wish, in view of the other and very important Motions which stand on the Paper, to delve into any details, but I think that I should make it quite clear—indeed, it should be obvious to everybody—that if any man or woman fails to perform the duties which are prescribed by the Defence Regulations, he or she has in fact committed a crime and must accept the consequences. Moreover, it is now a well-known fact, upon which there is no shadow of doubt whatever, that if an objector wilfully and knowingly contravenes any of the Fire Prevention Orders, he is liable to prosecution and, if found guilty, to punishment.

Let me now turn to the question of the powers of the Minister of Labour to direct persons into compulsory work. The noble Duke should know that when a conscientious objector has been granted conditional exemption from military service it has never been my right honourable friend's intention to direct that person to perform any work which would be contrary to the conditions under which his exemption was granted. On the other hand, the conscientious objectors who have been granted exemption from military service without conditions must be regarded as available for civilian employment, and liable to direction into suitable work. I might further remind your Lordships that my right honourable friend has given an undertaking that he will not exercise certain powers which he possesses to compel persons who have a conscientious objection to war to take part in the manufacture, production or handling of munitions, or in fact any other work which is closely connected with, or allied to, the military side of the war effort. There is, of course, ample opportunity and scope for such persons as these to render assistance to their country in a wide variety of other occupations.

I now come to the appellate tribunals, which the noble Duke condemns as being pig-headed, and who, he says, have not discharged their duties in a just or reasonable manner. I should point out that these appellate tribunals have nothing whatever to do with exemptions under the Fire Prevention Orders. It is always well, when moving a Motion about tribunals in this House, to know exactly which tribunal it is which is concerned. These appellate tribunals deal entirely with conscientious objection to military service. The only tribunals which are concerned with these other applications are the hardship committees, which receive all applications for exemption from duties under the Fire Prevention Orders on the grounds of medical unfitness or exceptional hardship. Their decision is final and irrevocable. They are independent bodies which have been set up by my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour, and he is perfectly satisfied that they have discharged, and are still discharging, their duties in an efficient and logical way. It is, I think, an absurdity to ask that these bodies should be composed of a majority of sympathizers with the sincere objector, whatever the grounds for his objection; it is quite obvious that it is far wiser for these committees to be composed of impartial persons who are absolutely unbiased one way or the other. That is why the Government reject the suggestion to pack these bodies in the way advocated by the noble Duke. I feel certain that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would hold up his hands in horror at the thought of a packed jury in the High Court who sympathized with the criminal in the cases which have to be tried there.

Finally, the noble Duke, in the course of his remarks, referred to what he described as the bad conditions existing in the prisons of this country. I do not accept that and I know he is wrong. It might interest the noble Duke to know that practically all my life I have been associated with the prisons of this country and the suggestion which he makes is completely untrue. He further said that young conscientious objectors to military service who decline to work and who have been sent to Borstal institutions have food taken away from them and given to other boys. That again is completely untrue. I cannot enter into the cases which the noble Duke quoted in the course of his remarks. I have no doubt that every one of those cases received fair and sympathetic treatment during the hearing and that the sentences ultimately given were just in every detail. I sincerely hope, on behalf of the Government, that the House will decline to accept the Resolution.


My Lords, I should like to say that, being a comparatively new member of your Lordships' House, I was unaware of the custom of avoiding criticism of the Governments of the Dominions. The noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, entirely misrepresented me when he said that I wished to enable conscientious objectors—he more or less hinted all conscientious objectors, though he did not say so—to evade and avoid all civic duties. I suggested nothing of the kind. There are certain laws and regulations applying to conscientious objectors which give them exemption from military service, and in some cases absolute exemption; and to a great extent I was only pleading that those existing laws and regulations should be carefully, fairly and properly carried out. The vast majority of conscientious objectors are not absolutists; they are prepared to perform various kinds of useful alternative service, and I was merely suggesting that the tribunals should be so constituted that they would put those persons into the kind of job which they would do most willingly and most efficiently. Therefore, the net result of my suggestion, if it were put into operation, would not be to injure the country, but rather to help it by seeing that the smallest possible number of people were either being taken out of work altogether, by being put in prison, or were being given work in which they could perform their duty cheerfully and wholeheartedly.

I would also like to point out that there is a vast number of moral obligations and civic duties which do not come under the heading of those which are ordered by a Government in war-time. One would think, to hear what the noble Viscount said, that the only moral obligation, the one sense of duty which he would elevate above all others, is the duty to obey the orders of the State. I should not be surprised to hear that statement coming from Hitler or Mussolini, but I must say I was a little surprised that it came from the noble Viscount, and it seems to support my view that Fascism is gaining a remarkably strong hold of the mentality of many persons who are least conscious of it.


Might I interrupt the noble Duke? What I did say was that people in the country ought to obey the order of the State in wartime. I was not talking about peacetime; that is an entirely different situation.


A suggestion was made that I wished to enable conscientious objectors to avoid doing anything to put out fires, and it was also suggested that the majority of conscientious objectors desired to have their property made safe by other people and to take no part whatever in putting out fires. That is a gross libel on quite 99 per cent. of conscientious objectors. They would certainly put out fires and help their neighbours to put out fires in a voluntary capacity. It is the conscription that they object to, for the reasons I have given. And I am perfectly certain that if it were desired to increase the efficiency of the fire service, one of the best possible ways of doing it would be to allow conscientious objection to fire watching, and for the Prime Minister or some other person to say that, as that had been granted, he would put it to the honour of those who were exempted to do what their consciences allowed them to do in a voluntary capacity. If he did that I think the response would be immediate.

The right reverend Prelate who spoke referred to prison food. I know that the conditions vary tremendously in different prisons; it depends a great deal on the prison governor—too much in my opinion. The fact that food is good in one prison is no proof that it is not bad in another. I think if another opportunity were given me I could undoubtedly bring forward abundant evidence that in many prisons it is extremely bad.

I thought I had made it quite plain that I was perfectly well aware that appellate tribunals have nothing whatever to do with fire-watching. There is no machinery at present at all for conscientious objection to industrial conscription and fire-watching. In my opinion there ought to be. Appellate tribunals naturally deal with ordinary conscientious objectors to military service who have been turned down by the ordinary tribunals. I was a little amused when it was suggested that because trade unionists were often members of tribunals we could therefore rely on their complete fairness and impartiality. Some prominent members of trade unions have the most violent bias in favour of war of any individuals I know. With regard to my suggestion that the appellate tribunals should have a majority of persons who, while quite prepared to turn down insincere conscientious objectors, would take a sympathetic, though not a biased view in dealing with genuine conscientious objectors, I did not mean to suggest that there should be a packed tribunal, but I did something that there should be something to offset the extreme bias, not universally present but undoubtedly commonly present, in the ordinary tribunals. Apparently great objection was taken to the idea of a bias in one direction, but no account whatever was taken of the very obvious bias—obvious to people who have attended many tribunals—which exists in the other.

On Question, Motion negatived.