HL Deb 09 February 1954 vol 185 cc732-62

2.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of this Bill is to remedy an injustice. It is an injustice which can be put right very easily, and one which I think I can explain quite shortly. Since the injustice is clear and palpable, I am sure that I shall have the sympathy of your Lordships in my efforts to have it redressed, although possibly it would be too much optimism on my part to think that I should get a great deal of assistance in the Division Lobby, in view of the fact that I understand that the Government are not prepared to give me any help in this matter.

The injustice of which I complain arises in this way. A man who is called up to do his National Service but who claims to have conscientious objections to military service has a statutory right, under the National Service Act, 1948, to have his objections inquired into by a tribunal. If the tribunal find that his is, in fact, a genuine objection, and report to that effect, he has the statutory right to have his name placed upon the Register of Conscientious Objectors; and in those circumstances he is exempt from service with the Armed Forces. The ordinary recruit claiming no such conscientious objection does his two years' military service with the Armed Forces. Afterwards, as your Lordships know, he is liable during a period of some three and a half years, to further military training, particularly the two weeks' training in camp every year.

If, after the period of his two years' service, possibly through religious conversion, or otherwise, his views change, and he claims to have become a conscientious objector, he has no right to go before a tribunal. All he can do is to disobey an order from the military authorities to undertake some particular form of service or to carry through some particular job. Having disobeyed a military command the man is, of course, liable to be court-martialled. If the court-martial sentences him to a period of three months' imprisonment, then, as a matter of administrative arrangement—indeed, as a concession on the part of the authorities—arrangements are made for an appeal tribunal to investigate his alleged conscientious objection. If the tribunal find that his conscientious objection is, in fact, genuine, and report to that effect, the man will not be required to undergo any further military service. I think your Lordships will agree with me that the failure to make provision for a man who develops conscientious objection is, on the face of it, an injustice which ought to be remedied.

I suspect that the omission of statutory provisions relating to this matter arises from the fact that the earlier Acts did not envisage any situation of the sort which has subsequently developed. Compulsory military service was introduced, as we all hoped, as a temporary measure, designed to place the mass of the citizens of the country in the Armed Forces of the Crown, in order that we might resist the aggressive attack of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Of course, it originated at an even earlier stage, after 1914, during the first German attack on us. At that time it was not contemplated that this service would, so to speak, be broken up into sections, and that after the war was over it would still be necessary for men to be called on not only for periods of service of two years but afterwards for training from time to time. Whether that is the reason why the necessary provision is not to be found in the Act of 1948, or whether it is owing to some other reason, I think your Lordships will agree that, in fact, an injustice is being done at the present time, and that there ought to be machinery under which a man who thus finds that his views, his convictions, have changed in this sort of way, after he has completed his first two years of service, should be able to claim, as a matter of right, to come before a tribunal and have his genuineness tested. And if it is found that he is genuinely a conscientious objector, he ought not to be called on to do military service.

The matter which brought this injustice to my attention in the first place was the case of a student in the University of London. He was not a student of my own. As some of your Lordships will know, I am a teacher in the University of London, but this particular man, Brian Jupp, was not one of my students; he was a student of a colleague of mine, who reported very highly on his work and on his character. After completing his period of two years' service, from 1949 to 1951—which, I understand, he carried out to the satisfaction of his military chiefs—this man found that his views had changed, and he became convinced it was wrong to take part in military activities. Being an honest, decent man, as soon as he reached that conviction he informed the military authorities of this change that had taken place. He was afterwards called up for training, refused to obey, was sent before a court-martial, was sentenced to prison, and, in due course, was sent before an appeal tribunal, which found that his convictions were genuine. Then, some three weeks later, he was released, having been in prison for a period of no less than ten weeks.

I had some correspondence about this case, which seemed to me to be quite unjust, with the Minister of Defence early last year, and eventually put down a Question on June 9, to which the Minister gave what I felt was as sympathetic a reply as I could expect. His case, in effect, was that he could not do other than he had done because of the state of the law. There is a sentence at the end of his answer which is perhaps slightly ambiguous. It can, I think, be construed as meaning that he thought the law as it stood was a satisfactory law, but it is possible to put upon the words the construction that the Minister was satisfied that the arrangements made under the present Act were as good as could be made. In the hope that the latter of those two constructions was the one really in the Minister's mind, and feeling that file burden of his answer was that the legal position did not enable him to do other than he had done, I decided to promote this Bill, in the hope that the Minister and Her Majesty's Government would feel that in the present state of affairs there is an injustice which ought to be remedied and that this Bill would provide the machinery to enable them to do so.

I should like to say here that I am very grateful for the not unsympathetic way in which the Minister has replied to my efforts, and, in particular, for the real concession he made as a result of the case of Brian Jupp, to the effect that as soon as the tribunal have reported that in their view a man's objections are sincere, he will immediately be let out of prison. Under the old régime—as in the case of Jupp—it might well be that the man was kept until the end of the three months' sentence imposed by the court-martial. It was a real injustice to keep a man in prison for some weeks after the genuineness of his conscientious objections had been accepted. That is a matter which I am glad to say has now been put right, as a result of the course taken by the Minister himself, and I should like to express my gratitude to him for that. I should also like to say that, so far as information which has come to me goes, the military authorities themselves have handled these cases with sympathy and tact. I have no complaint about the way these men have been treated by their commanding officers. I feel that the Army has adopted an attitude of much greater sympathy and understanding, and, indeed, imagination, than was very often shown in the years of the First World War, when, unfortunately, this sympathy and imagination were often lacking. Therefore, I should like to pay this, I think, deserved tribute for the way these cases have been handled.

I might, perhaps, at this stage say—though those of your Lordships who know me personally may think it is unnecessary for me to do so—that I myself do not agree with persons who hold conscientious objections to military service. My own view is that it is the duty, and indeed should be the privilege, of a man, when his country is in danger, to rally to its defence. At the same time I feel that where conscientious objection to military service is genuine, the man has every right, as the Statute gives him the right in the ordinary way, to have that conscientious objection heard and to be exempted from military service on the basis of it. I feel that this is one of the hallmarks of our British conception of liberty, which un- fortunately is so often absent from the conception of liberty held in other countries.

These men are prepared, and even willing, to go to prison as an earnest of their genuineness, but it seems to me altogether unjust that they should in fact be sent to prison in this way. After all, imprisonment, even imprisonment of this kind, is a stigma, and undoubtedly some of these men feel very keenly the stigma of it. What is more, their families, relations and friends feel it even more keenly. In a sense, it would be more reasonable to make arrangements for these older men to have the right of registration as conscientious objectors than the younger men, because few boys of eighteen have ever really thought these problems out for themselves. If they do hold conscientious objections to military service, they almost always hold them as a matter almost of heredity—because they have been brought up in some religious denomination in which objection to military service and the taking up of arms is a cardinal doctrine. It is really between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five that a man is likely to go through a period of intense intellectual and emotional struggle which, in a number of cases (I am glad to think it is only in a very small number of cases), leads to religious conversion which from time to time carries with it the conviction that one ought not to take up arms and which turns the man in question into a conscientious objector.

I think the matter is well put by the Methodist Church Christian Citizenship Conference who in their published report state: The reform is overdue and will surely not be opposed."— I wish they were right in that latter statement.— In the new situation caused by the extension of conscription, it is indefensible to argue that youths of eighteen should then have finally solved for themselves problems of conscience which the Christian Church itself has not yet answered I believe that this period between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five is the period when most religious conversions are found to take place.

I do not wish to burden my speech with numerous personal illustrations of the position which has developed as a result of the law as it now stands. I have mentioned the case of Jupp—incidentally, Jupp was a most unfortunate case. In 1940, at the time of the great Coventry air raid, both his parents were killed and he himself was seriously injured; and your Lordships will understand that in such circumstances it is very possible for a man to develop a sort of persecution mania when handled in the way Jupp was handled.

I should like to refer also to the case of a man called Halton, particulars of which have been brought to my attention, because it seems to me to be typical of the sort of case which arises. At the time this lad was called up at eighteen he had no particular religious views, and saw no reason why he should not do his service, like his friends and contemporaries. But while serving in Malaya, where I understand he served with an excellent record, he came under the influence of a fine Army chaplain who turned his thoughts in a religious direction—I do not say necessarily in the direction of conscientious objection. However, as a result of his views being turned in a religious direction, he began seriously to ponder about these matters and about the time he finished service in Malaya he came to the conclusion that his conscience no longer permitted him to handle arms and take part in military service. He immediately informed his Adjutant, which I suggest showed that he is an honourable and decent man. Eventually he was brought before the appeals tribunal, which found that he was genuine, but there was considerable delay, the sort of administrative delay that unfortunately occurs from time to time. This man missed the first tribunal, which sat a few weeks before last Christmas, and he had to spend the whole Christmas period in prison. An attempt to get his release by a remission of sentence over Christmas so that he might be with his family—after all he had been in Malaya for some time, and in a way his family were entitled to have him—could not be conceded, though the authorities would have been glad to have conceded it, because by that the three months' imprisonment would technically have come to an end. He had to be kept prisoner ever the Christmas holiday, in order that he might technically qualify, so to speak, when he went before the tribunal.

This sort of thing is absurd and entirely unjust. A situation under which this can happen ought to be brought to a close as soon as possible. It is a thoroughly unfortunate aspect of this whole business that offences should have to be manufactured, so to speak, and three-month sentences served by conscientious objectors, when everybody knows that it is being done as a formality so that the man may be brought before the appeals tribunal, not by way of proper punishment under military law. The strange thing is that in the case of "Z" Reservists, older men who served during the war and who are under obligation to do further training periods from time to time, provision is made for a "Z" Reservist who attests as a conscientious objector to go before a tribunal. It is quite impossible to make a case for treating one man in this way and not the other. I rest my case on the injustice of the present situation, but there is a practical aspect, although it is not a serious one, becauses the number of these cases is small. But we have men like Jupp, for whose education in a university the community has spent substantial sums of money, training him to take an important part in the economy of the country. As soon as he finishes his training we immediately deprive ourselves of his services for a period of ten weeks by keeping him in prison. That is an absurd situation, and one which I suggest ought to be brought to an end as quickly as possible.

I understand that the Government will oppose this Bill. The arguments which were advanced when this matter was discussed in another place seem to me to be two, so far as I could follow the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and National Service. There is a technical point, which this Bill is designed to overcome, that under the present law nothing else is possible. There is also the further technical point that the man's period of service is regarded as one whole period of five years, and therefore he must make his conscientious objection at the very beginning or, so to speak, for ever hold his peace. That seems to me to be a thoroughly technical and thoroughly bad point. There is no earthly reason why that should be so—indeed, every reason is the other way; that during the period, if he has done his main period of service, he should be allowed, as of right, to go before a tribunal and have his conscience tested in that way.

I gather that the main argument which has been put forward against this proposal is that it might be abused. It is suggested that if a man could make a statutory claim to go before a tribunal in this way, thousands of people would immediately begin to develop conscientious objections which were a complete sham, and which they never really held; that the result would be that the work of the Army would be seriously incommoded, and that there would be a feeling abroad that it was quite easy for a man to get off by pretending to have a conscientious objection when he had not got one at all. I suggest that there is little, if anything, in that sort of argument. Is it really suggested that the tribunals which deal with these cases are so incompetent that they are incapable of sifting out the genuine conscientious objectors from the shammers and the fakers? That cannot be so, because this is a mere handful of cases, compared with the hundreds, indeed thousands, of cases which have been, and have to be, considered by these tribunals.

I find it difficult to understand how the Minister, who in one part of his speech congratulated the tribunals on the admirable, careful and conscientious work they do, could, in another part, say, in effect, that we cannot trust the tribunals to sift the sheep from the goats. Again, is it seriously suggested that a man is more likely to invent conscientious objections for the purpose of evading a fortnight's service in camp, than for the purpose of evading two years' main service in the Army, where he may have to serve in the jungle of Malaya, in Kenya, against the Mau Mau, or in other unpleasant parts of the world, where he may be in great danger? Surely, from the point of view of common sense and reason it would be better to trust the second man than the first. Yet the provisions in the legislation are the other way round.

I would remind your Lordships that it is not only a question of testing the man himself; a great strain is put not only upon the man but also upon his family. Indeed, some strain may be put upon his employer, who, in the case of a small business, may well be thrown into considerable difficulty by losing a good man for a period of six weeks, two months, or even ten weeks, as may happen in these cases. Further, there may be a strain put upon the man's workmates, for in a small factory, if one good man is taken away it may mean that the work of the other men is held up and hindered. And, as I have suggested, it may also be against the interest of the community as a whole. I suggest that there is no real evidence that this concession would be a dangerous one. The experience with the "Z" men shows that only some 900, out of hundreds of thousands have claimed conscientious objection in this way—I believe the number represents less than 2 per cent. of the whole. So far, of the reservists who give rise to the particular problem we are discussing, I believe that there have been only about twenty-four possible conscientious objectors, of whom eighteen have been found to be genuine. So, in my view, there is no real danger of abuse. It may well be said that if the number is so small, why bother to introduce a Bill? I am afraid that I cannot accept that argument. This is an injustice, and an injustice is an injustice whether it affects a large or a small number of men. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that it is an injustice which ought to be removed, and that you will show your agreement sympathetically by according this Bill a Second Reading. Therefore, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Chorley.)

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I rise to address your Lordships' this afternoon on the Bill now before the House, for I have only recently returned from a rapid 20,000 miles trip, on Parliamentary business, and I have been unable to follow in such detail as I should have liked the progress of this question in other quarters, or to study adequately the full implications of the machinery which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, puts forward as the most suitable means to achieve an aim which I am sure is considered by many people to be an important aim. Indeed, I feel that I may have your Lordships' agreement that the conditions for reviewing and meditating upon a problem which is at least 2,000, and more probably 5,000 years old, are not ideal when one's person is hurtling through space at the rate of five million miles per year—a rate which is normally expressed in miles per hour. Yet I feel that I cannot allow this afternoon to pass without a voice being raised from these Benches in general support of the principle of freedom of conscience, and against any tendency to allow an injustice to be done, even in one single case, on the grounds that a minority must suffer for the benefit of the majority if—and I admit that this is a big if—that situation can practically and reasonably be avoided.

There is only one small specific point to which I desire to refer, and it has already been put forward to your Lordships quite clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I should like to make it clear that I have not had the opportunity of verifying that my premises are in every respect correct; but even if they are inaccurate—and, if I may say so, this is rather an important point—they do, I believe, represent a conception of the position which lies in the minds of a large number of people in this country. For that reason, I hope that your Lordships will not feel that an apology is due from me for any inaccuracy which I may be voicing, since by doing so, I hope that I am giving to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, an opportunity either of rectifying a widely held misconception, which I am sure he will be glad to do, or else to put up the case for combatting the point which I have in mind.

As I understand the position, and as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has explained it, the conscientious objector can be properly registered before he joins the Colours. But in certain categories he is registered after he has joined the Colours, and his only means then of obtaining consideration of his views is the had, rather clumsy and (to me) unfair method of deliberately having to disobey an order, and suffering detention or imprisonment before his case can be decided. It is, I believe, argued that this method is necessary as being in the nature of a deterrent to those who are not really conscientious objectors, but who nevertheless would endeavour to use this position to shirk the duties which they had undertaken to perform but which they found distasteful—not an unusual state of affairs. I do not for a moment deny that there is, unfortunately, a large number of men who would try to act in this way nor; do I deny that if they were allowed to take improper advantage in this way they would be a menace to organisation, to discipline and to morale. Surely, however, the principle of deterrent can be applied in a much fairer way, so that the innocent and genuine case does not automatically suffer equally with the guilty and insincere case.

I would suggest that the punishment for the dishonest shirker should be heavy—possibly much heavier than it is now—but that it should be applied after a fair trial, and not, as at present, before trial, when the innocent are victimised by being assumed to be dishonest until they can establish their genuineness. That, surely, is contrary to one of the elemental principles of British justice. I hope that the clay is long passed when the term "conchy" denotes opprobrium. Religious liberty, on which we in this country pride ourselves, is no more and no less than liberty of conscience; and however small a body may be in distinction from the general run of thought or opinion around us, we have a. proud heritage of ensuring its freedom to live and to act within our body politic, so long as, it does not contravene our laws or imperil our welfare. I do not believe that in these enlightened days there is any really responsible body of opinion which regards the genuine conscientious objector as other than a man of high principle. With these remarks, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to give sympathetic consideration to this point which I have endeavoured to put forward.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to emphasise the point which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. I feel that the issue raised by this Bill can be pin-pointed. It is not the question of conscription, nor is it the admitted right of conscientious objectors to claim exemption from military service upon first being called up. That right has been conceded. The purpose of this Bill is to remedy a flaw in the National Service Act, 1948, which I submit is the result of an oversight during the passage of that Bill through Parliament, in that no provision was made therein for a National Service man who, having completed his whole-time service, experienced later such a spiritual upheaval as to create for him a conscientious objection to military service while he was still liable to part-time service.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has referred to a resolution passed by a Methodist Committee on Christian citizenship. I should like to tell your Lordships of a higher authority. The last Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, having previously expressed its conviction that conscription should not become a permanent feature of our national life, made this significant addition: The Conference welcomes the continuation of provision for conscientious objection, but urges that immediate consideration should be given to the special position of reservists who become conscientious objectors. In common with a vast body of Free Churchmen, the Conference was seized with the anomaly of the present position which this Bill seeks to remedy, and I would urge your Lordships to give it a Second Reading with a view to removing such an intolerable injustice, for the present procedure, I submit, is a contravention of an elementary principle of justice.

I speak with some feeling about the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred—the lad, Halton. I have a letter in my hand from his father. I have great sympathy with that father, for I have three sons, one of whom served as an officer in each of the three Services. It has not fallen to my lot to have to defend such a position on their behalf, because they do not take that position. But this father had seen his son go through the rigours of the terrible jungle campaign. He was brought under the exceptional spiritual influence to which the noble Lord has referred, thanks to the helpful influence of a grand chaplain; and when he came home, to the utter surprise of his parents, who had no idea that he had developed any thought of pacifist views, they learned that he had been soundly converted. This is not the occasion to attempt an analysis and dissection of religious experiences, but make no mistake, conversion is not a psychological experience of an abnormal individual. Jesus Christ himself said: Marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born again. That is conversion, and it may well be that a man's attitude to military service may be radically changed by such an experience. It was so in this case, and yet he suffered all the indignity of prison life. It was exceptionally hard because, as the noble Lord said, he could not appeal until he was in prison, and thus it was that he had to spend Christmas there. I do ask that this Bill shall at least be given a Second Reading so that we may look at it in Committee. We do not wish to create a loophole which will be taken advantage of by those who are not entitled to it, but we do say that it is a difference of degree and not of principle that there are a few who are conscientiously awakened to their position in this matter after they have done their original service and then become reservists. I am glad to have the opportunity of supporting this Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I take the opposite view from that of noble Lords who have already spoken. The main point about the National Serviceman is that before he is called up he is given the opportunity to state his views upon the subject of whether he is a conscientious objector or not. After that, his engagement is definitely for the period of two years with the Colours and then of a further three and a half years in the Territorial Army or Auxiliary Forces. It is, in fact, a whole engagement, and not one which can be split. That is one point I wish to make. Much has been made of the fact that boys of eighteen years of age are not able to make up their minds. I have spoken on this subject before, and I believe that they themselves make a great deal of it. It can be turned into propaganda for them, because much is made of it not only by themselves but by their fond parents who, when there is a difficult job to be done say "My boy is hardly old enough to make up his mind"—and then try to make it up for him. I believe there is a good deal in that.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that a National Serviceman who joins one of the technical corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers or other corps within the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, and does exactly the same job as he does in peace time, has really any thought of changing his mind—and, indeed, I cannot see why he should. The job he has to do is the job which he knows will be the job he will do in war time. That is one of the things which frequently happen to these men. To my mind none of these men should develop ideas of conscientious objection. The religious side, which has been mentioned, it is true, has a great bearing on people's characters.

During the war I was for some time dealing with the Airborne Division in its early stages. We had there much the same problems, with parachutists. They were fine fellows and they did extremely well. There were, however, cases of men who refused to jump. Theirs was possibly a slightly different kind of case. They had volunteered for it, and they were not ordered to jump. But once they had completed their initial training in parachuting and were getting the extra pay for parachuting, then it was their duty to jump when ordered; and should they refuse to do so they were court-martialled for it. The only way to keep up the standard was, of course, by preserving the morale.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred to deterrents. I have just mentioned one form of deterrent—a course which had to be adopted in order to prevent the spread of refusals to jump. Such art attitude of mind could spread very quickly. I believe that conscientious objection also might spread if men realised that it was a matter of no difficulty to plead conscientious objection. To my mind these men have got to realise that they must complete that for which they engaged. It has been said that it is an honour and privilege to serve one's country—and so it is. Surely a soldier must do so for the time which is laid down for him. I suggest that that is an obligation which must be taken seriously, and people must not suppose that they can back out of it when they choose.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for only a few moments. I do not wish to repeat any of the arguments which have already been put forward by previous speakers. I think the case was admirably and completely made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill this afternoon. I shall not follow the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, in any detail, for I think the points he made had all been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and by subsequent speakers. He did raise, as Lord Chorley anticipated someone would raise this afternoon, the question of the single engagement. That seems to me to be a technicality. Surely we should not wish, for the sake of what can only be described as a legalism, to inflict what is clearly an injustice. Moreover, this question seems to me, as Lord Chorley has said, to be in itself contradictory; because you say to a man, on the one hand, that he must make up his mind regarding conscientious objection when he is first called to the Colours and then must either complete his service or, so to speak, take his medicine; and, on the other, in the case of a "Z" reservist, that he may make his conscientious objection considerably later. Lord Goschen also raised a point concerning the age of a National Serviceman and the influence of the parents. It was, I think, Lord Rochester who said that people of that age who have a conscientious objection are nearly all drawn from the same religious body or back-ground in which that objection is common and is part of the principles in which they have been raised. It is not, in fact, as a rule, an objection which has been worked out by the person himself. He is not old enough. In that respect the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, practically made my point concerning the influence of the parents.

I wish to make a point in connection with the plea sometimes put forward that there must be a deterrent to prevent the abuse of such a privilege as we are suggesting in the Bill. I wonder whether people who talk about deterrents really appreciate the logical conclusion to which their argument leads. Surely what they are in fact saying is that they demand for these people something like a trial of martyrdom. No one would seriously desire for one moment to inflict pains or penalties on a person who has genuine conscientious objections. It. is the law of the land that such a person has a statutory right to go before a tribunal and have his objection heard; and, if his objection is found to be genuine, to have his name put on the list of conscientious objectors. That recognises the fact that if a man has a genuine conscientious objection, he shall have the right to be exempted from military service. That is the whole purpose for which those special tribunals have been set up. We know how difficult the work of these tribunals must be. It is a most difficult thing to judge a man's religious convictions or his conscientious convictions, if they be not religious. Parliament in her wisdom, has set up these tribunals which have worked with fair success. They have certainly worked most conscientiously to find out whether these convictions to which men lay claim are genuine or not. But why should the right to go before these tribunals be made dependent on a penal sentence in the case of one particular and quite small class of men? It applies only to the smallish number of men who have done their two years' service and have developed the religious conviction after they have terminated the service.

Even were it right and proper that there should be a deterrent to prevent these men from developing or expressing their conscientious objections, I suggest that that deterrent is already there, in the sanctions of society. I cannot believe that many people would willingly bring themselves up against the very nearly unanimous public opinion which conscientious objectors have to face in this country and in the world at large. And all that simply in order to avoid a fortnight's camp! I suggest that the vast majority who are called up for their fortnight's camp, so far from resenting it or regarding it as an irksome duty, regard it as something very much like a holiday. I cannot believe that there can be any considerable number of people who would develop a sham conscientious objection in order to avoid this fortnight's service.

Finally, may I make a perfectly practical point. It seems to me that, by insisting on this procedure, the authorities are, in fact, making difficulties for themselves. If a man who was liable to military service, when he found that his religious convictions no longer permitted him to perform military duties, were allowed then to appeal to a tribunal, these cases could be dealt with one by one as they arose. No injustice would be done. The man's convictions would be tested, so far as they could be tested, by the tribunals, and the Army would then not have the tiresome business of calling up a man who then disobeys an order, is given a sentence, is sent to prison and, finally, goes before the tribunal. Not only is that in itself troublesome, but I suggest that, in the event of war, there would be considerably larger numbers of such people because, whereas under the proposals in this Bill it would be possible for them to go before a tribunal to make their objection clear and have it accepted or rejected during the interval between their completion of their National Service and the arising of the emergency, under the present law they would all be called up at the same time and there would be a spate—not a very large spate, but a spate—of such cases. This must, inevitably, be administratively inconvenient. I suggest, therefore, that, on grounds both of justice and of administrative convenience, this Bill should be given a Second Reading.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak for only a short time, but I want to speak because during the war I was for a year an instructor at the Guards depôt. There, I suppose hundreds, if not thousands, of recruits passed through our hands in the one year. It is with recruits that I think one comes in contact with this question of conscientious objection probably more than with men at any other stage in their service. Apart from the fact that I am of the firm belief that this Bill would definitely weaken the Auxiliary Services, I am convinced, from my experience during that year, that it is open to abuse by many people who would be anxious to take the opportunity of trying to get out of the Services. Certainly, I think it was the experience of everyone who worked at that depôt that almost all genuine conscientious objection was developed in advance, before enlistment. Amongst all those thousands—and there were thousands of people—I do not remember a single case where conscientious objection arose after the man had joined the Army. That is a most important point. It is easy to say that people can change, but if there are any cases, they must be exceedingly rare indeed.

It is, of course, easy for a man, after he has had a taste of Service discipline and, perh0aps, has taken a dislike to the sergeant-major, to decide that perhaps even a short term of imprisonment and then freedom might be preferable to continuing on the square under the drill sergeant. As to the process which has been referred to already in this debate, of three months' imprisonment and then the right to go before a tribunal, I may say that I had personal contact with such a case of a man who refused to put on military uniform. It was my job to defend him at his court martial. There was no question about it; he was a sincere objector. I explained to him that the best defence for him would be for me to try to get him his maximum sentence, which was three months, and then he would be able to go before the tribunal. He agreed to do that. I think that that procedure is useful and necessary. It is only fair that, after a man has joined the Services, he should give some definite proof of his objection, by way perhaps of a small personal sacrifice.

I should like to bring this point particularly to your Lordships' notice: it concerns also a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, about "martyrdom." I do not think any question of martyrdom or injustice arises, because one must remember that when a man joins the Services, if he does not apply to be heard by a tribunal he is subject to military, naval or air force law (whichever it is) and he must obey that law. If you say that he is not to obey that law because he has suddenly become a conscientious objector, although he signed on as an ordinary Service man, you will make a mockery and chaos of all military law.


The noble Lord does not seem to have appreciated that this Bill applies only to people who have completed their two years' service. The noble Lord is dealing with the case of a man serving his two years. This Bill deals with the man who has completed his two years and then, back in civil life, is called up for further training.


But the man has not completed his engagement and he is still subject to military law. It must be binding on him. I think that this matter goes fairly deep. It is a question of military discipline that is at stake. I believe that if this Bill were to be passed it would strike a bad blow at the general standard of our Services and the discipline which holds them up.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate but two or three questions of great import have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Chorley, Lord Faringdon and Lord Fairfax of Cameron. I agree with my noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron. This liability to service was part and parcel of the man's obligations to the country about which he knew when he served his two years and about which he knows now that he is on the Reserve. I cannot see what advantage the Bill is going to bring, if passed—I hope it will not be—to the general question of National Service.

It was my privilege in the last war to train between 9,000 and 11,000 men, recruits aged seventeen and a half or eighteen and onwards. I never had a single case of a conscientious objector. I had hundreds of cases of men who did not know to what religion they belonged and who, when asked by the padre what was their religion, said that their parents were British but beyond that they had not a clue. But that is nothing to do with conscientious objection. Therefore, cannot see that that will help in any way. I am afraid I arrived a little late for the opening part of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, but I did hear two-thirds of it. As I understand it—and perhaps the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, the local padre persuaded the particular man to whom the noble Lord was referring to become very religious. Yet this man was made to serve three months in, not prison, but some other place where he was put.


It was a prison.


What was the chaplain doing? That is what I want to know. What was the chaplain doing if he had persuaded this fellow to become a conscientious objector?


The noble Viscount has asked me to give further particulars about this case. This man began to feel the need for religion as a result of conversations with the chaplain in Malaya. After he got back to England and had returned to civil life, his mind and spiritual thoughts persuaded him that the use of arms was wrong. He then gave notice to the military authorities that he was now a conscientious objector. So far as I know, the padre is still in Malaya.


But did he do three months? I understand he did. What I want to know is, what was the chaplain doing?


The man spent a substantial time in prison. I should not like to commit myself to three months, but I think it was over two months. I am not certain about the exact time.


Does it matter whether it is a fortnight, a month, or three months? I want to know what the chaplain was doing. The noble Lord cannot tell me. He says that the chaplain is still in Malaya. My Lords, the fact that this particular man has suffered for his conscience, due to a chaplain "getting at" him, is no reason for passing this Bill. I happen to know, and the noble Lord opposite knows perfectly well, that this man, if he was a conscientious objector, would never have had to undergo three months' imprisonment if the chaplain had spoken up for him. That is the law of our country, and we are still able to put it into effect. I feel that what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has quoted is not doing his case any good.

Now I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. It is not for the first time that the noble Lord and I have crossed swords in your Lordships' Chamber. I think it is a great pity that he is not in the Territorial Army to-day. He would not think that fortnight's training a holiday. No man, either from National Service or the "Z" Reserve thinks that this fortnight is a holiday. Of course, the noble Lord may not know what a fortnight's holiday means.


With great respect to the noble Viscount, it seems to me not at all extraordinary that if one were doing a dreary job in an office one would be glad to go out into camp with the Territorials.


The noble Lord may be doing a dreary job in an office, but he has not, I think, done a fortnight's training. I suggest that, before he makes statements about its being a holiday, he had better consult those who are taking part in the Territorial Army at the moment. From his point of view I cannot see how the passing of this Bill is going to help. As I say, I did not intend to intervene in this debate but everything I have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, makes me believe that this Bill is unnecessary; and if it becomes a question of a Division I shall certainly vote against the Second Reading.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I do not suppose that it will be any surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, when I tell him I regret that, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I cannot recommend your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. I say that I do not think the noble Lord will be surprised because this attitude of the Government has been announced more than once in both Houses of Parliament, and I need hardly say that our decision was reached after most careful consideration and consultation with our professional advisers. Our attitude was made clear in reply to Questions, and in a debate in another place on July 23 last. Lord Chorley will remember that he was told, in reply to a Question on June 9 last, that Her Majesty's Government had reached the conclusion that there was good ground for maintaining the present arrangements. Moreover, the noble Lord will remember that as recently as January 12 last he and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, took part in a deputation from the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors which was received by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. On that occasion, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence was asked by the noble Lord who is sponsoring this Bill whether it was the Government's intention to resist the Bill. He replied that he understood that it was definitely the Government's intention. So that, as I say, the noble Lord will not be surprised.

National service is an unpleasant necessity which has been imposed upon us by the state of the world to-day. Nobody likes it, neither those who are conscripted nor Parliament which has conscripted them, and we all hope that affairs may so improve that we can dispense with it altogether. In the meantime, the British people, reluctantly, have accepted it. They have done so mainly, I dare say, because they have the sense to see that at present it cannot be avoided but also, I think, because they recognise that it is administered fairly, that there is equality of sacrifice, and that no individual is able, by escaping or evading his obligation on private grounds, to get ahead of another in his profession, whatever it may be. On the other hand, if it were once suspected that some young men could "get away with it," then this general acceptance would undoubtedly be undermined.

There is, therefore, only one ground upon which any man can avoid this obligation, and that is if he can show conscientious objection to military service. In this country, I am glad to say, we have always believed in liberty of conscience, indeed, liberty of conscience is one of the essential liberties for the defence of which National Service was instituted. Therefore a man called up for National Service is entitled, under the 1948 Act, to have his case put before a local tribunal if he claims conscientious objection on registration, before he joins the Forces. I should like to emphasise that point. Everyone has a chance, before he joins the Forces, to establish the fact that he is a conscientious objector, and every single one of the 300,000-odd National Servicemen who were called up last year had this right. I think it may be of interest to your Lordships to know that only about one-quarter of 1 per cent. exercised it, So much for that.

On the other hand, there is this side of the matter: that although we all wish to respect the scruples of the genuine conscientious objector, we do not wish this concession to be abused. Her Majesty's Government do not wish this, and I know that their predecessors did not, because, after all, the 1948 Act was their Act. I hope, therefore, that when they have listened to what I have to say, and bearing that in mind, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and his colleagues on the Benches opposite, if this matter goes to a Division, will join us in the Lobby. As I say, this was their policy, and it is also our policy. They took the view, and we take it also, that this concession should not be abused by the shirker and the scrimshankers, for whom I am quite certain neither the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, nor anybody else, has a good word to say. I should like to emphasise once again, that if such people were allowed to abuse any concession of this kind to evade their obligations, there would be a public outcry. And for those who are genuine supporters of liberty of conscience I would put this point: that liberty will be respected only so long as there is no abuse. Once liberty is abused, there is always a danger of public feeling rising up and overwhelming the individual liberty concerned. I hope that those who are supporting this Bill will bear that point in mind. I believe that there would be a public outcry.

The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, used the argument that the mere force of public opinion was a sufficient safeguard against abuse—


I said I thought it was a very considerable deterrent.


I think that is very much the same thing. He rather suggested that no further safeguards were needed.


Oh no. I am sorry; but I did not.


Then if the noble Lord does think further safeguards are needed, obviously he does not think the force of public opinion is as strong as he suggested.


With great respect, the noble Lord really has misinterpreted me. What I said was that Parliament has set up a safeguard in the form of the tribunals. What I argued was that there was no reason why one particular type of case should not be given access to the tribunals, to which men in other circumstances, both older and younger, already have access.


I am sorry if I have in any way misrepresented the noble Lord, but I am fortified now by knowing that I have him on my side when I say that safeguards against abuse are necessary. Clearly, he will agree with me about that. I do not think that any Government could be content to leave the administration of such a scheme to the mere chance of public opinion. Therefore, we have always held, and continue to hold, that there must be additional safeguards.

I started off by saying that any man should, before he joined the Forces, have the opportunity of registering his objection. I must emphasise a point which was well put by Lord Fairfax of Cameron—that is, that once a man has passed into the Service he is under military discipline for the term of his engagement. Lord Chorley, and particularly Lord Faringdon, talked about legalism. Lord Chorley, I think, said it was a technical point and that it was bad. I am not sure whether he was suggesting that because it was a technical point it was bad, or that because it was a bad point it was technical.




It is a technical point, if the noble Lord likes, but it is not a bad point at all. It is the essence and the crux of the whole thing. The man is liable to military discipline for the whole of his engagement. Legally—the noble Lord may dislike this but it is so—his engagement is not for two years or for three and a half years but for five and a half years; that is to say, two years full-time and three and a half years part-time service. During the whole of that period he is subject to military discipline. If he wishes to disobey an order then he, like anyone else under military discipline, must pay the penalty for disobedience to an order. If we were not to insist—


I think the noble Lord is not looking at this matter correctly. Surely the point is that, although the man has no wish to disobey an order, it is his only remedy in the present state of affairs. I do not think it has been suggested that a man deliberately and of malice aforethought disobeys an order. But, as matters stand at present, that is the only course open to him in order to get his case heard.


Surely the noble Lord is not arguing that in the Army it would be possible to have discussions on whether a man did or did not mean to disobey an order, so that every case of that kind would have to be carefully gone into. Would the noble Lord suggest that if a man strikes a sergeant-major then a psychiatrist must be called in to see whether or not he struck the sergeant-major on purpose? The answer is that the man struck the sergeant-major, and he must pay the penalty.


I am suggesting that at present a man is told, in effect, "You cannot have your rights unless you strike a sergeant-major."


I do not think that that is quite the case. Surely the point is that the man has had one opportunity of registering as a conscientious objector, and once he has missed that opportunity, though he may have a change of heart later, he is subject to military discipline, and that military discipline must be maintained. We cannot have any system which enables people to avoid their military obligations without incurring a penalty. That is the first point. The next point is this. Lord Chorley said—and I think Lord Faringdon re-echoed the same point—that the danger of abuses was very small, and that it was quite wrong to have any form of deterrent. Lord Faringdon talked about martyrdom. Here, again, I do not agree. After all, we are not going to be so cynical as to suppose that anyone who claims to be a conscientious objector is a rogue. But, on the other hand, we are surely not going to be so naïve as to imagine that anyone who claims to be a conscientious objector is, in fact, a conscientious objector. It is a very difficult point, but we have to balance the two. So, as I say, there is the possibility of abuse; and since there is that possibility and the risk, if you are a genuine conscientious objector, of being muddled up with the scrimshankers, there must be deterrents. Personally I should not in the least mind going through a little hardship to prove that I was a genuine objector and one worthy of respect by all concerned. That is my point of view. In any case, we feel that once a man has had his first chance, if he later suffers a change of heart, it is no very great evil that he should have to suffer a little adversity in order to prove that he is genuine.

I am afraid that that is the difference which completely divides us. That is the point of view of Her Majesty's Government and I do not think I can say more on that particular point, beyond this. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, talked about martyrdom and long periods of imprisonment, and so on and so forth. Lord Chorley paid a tribute to Her Majesty's Government on this particular matter, and I should like to say that although, under the late Administration's own Act, a man has to be sentenced to a period of imprisonment of not less than three months, in fact everything is done, once he has been court-martialled, to see that his case goes forward to a tribunal as soon as possible. And as Lord Chorley told your Lordships, the situation now is that as soon as that tribunal has pronounced a man to be a conscientious objector—if, indeed, that is the tribunal's decision—he is immediately released. I think the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said that that was an improvement.

From our point of view, the matter is quite simple. First, we believe that military discipline must be maintained. Secondly, we believe that a man who is a genuine conscientious objector should not mind undergoing a little hardship to prove his genuineness after he has already had one chance to do so. Finally, we believe that this Bill, as it stands, would do something which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, himself would not in any way desire—that is to say, it would open the door to abuses, and it would undoubtedly give an opportunity to shirkers and scrimshankers. The noble Lord made one point about the difference which two years can make to a man. He said that a man was more mature after two years. I am not quite sure on what basis he attaches such particular importance to the period of two years, but there may be something in that point. In our opinion, however, it is not a matter of such substance as to override the considerations which I have already put forward.

There is just one other point which I feel I must make as to the actual effect of the Bill if it were passed into law. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, realises this, but if the Bill were passed into law it would give a man who has changed his mind better treatment than the man who, on the face of it, would seem to be more deserving: I refer, of course, to the man who applied for registration at the time of calling up and whose claim to be registered as a conscientious objector was rejected when he went before the tribunal. That man had been rejected; and whereas, under the noble Lord's Bill, if it were passed, he could go before the tribunal again only as a result of committing a military offence, a man who changed his mind would be able to go before the tribunal without committing any such offence. Therefore I suggest that the Bill would be making an inequality and actually creating what some might think another injustice.

Nor can I accept the argument which was advanced by both noble Lords, that a man doing part-time National Service should be put in the same position as were the "Z" reservists, who on their recall from training were allowed access to a tribunal without going through the process of serving a court-martial sentence. As your Lordships know, no more "Z" men are being called up for training, so that in any case there are no more reservists comparable to National Service men. I do not wish to rest my case on that point, however, because the Government definitely took the view that when the "Z" call-up was instituted there were strong reasons for drawing a distinction between "Z" reservists and part-time Service men. In the first place, their obligations were quite different. The noble Lord said that "Z" men were liable to recall for periods of training. That is not so. The "Z" reservist had no further obligation whatever beyond recall in a state of emergency, which most "Z" reservists certainly hoped would never occur, and which would mean another war. That is why special legislation had to be passed not so long ago, when it was desired to give them a short period of training. Therefore, their obligations were quite different from those of National Service men who have an obligation to serve for a specific period of five years.

There are other differences. The National Service man has already had one chance of going before a local tribunal on registration, whilst the "Z" man may well not have had during the war any previous access to an adjudicating body. Finally, the "Z" man who was called up in 1951 and 1952 had already spent some time, often a long period of years, in civil life before recall, and during this period some may have quite genuinely developed a different outlook towards military service from what they had had previously. On the other hand, the National Service man who has passed from full-time to part-time service will have had only a few weeks or months of civil life, and there is much less likelihood of his alleged change of heart being genuine.

Before I conclude, I want to say a few words on the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred. I understand that over the case of Brian Jupp the noble Lord had some correspondence last year with my noble and gallant friend the Minister of Defence. I think I shall not be misrepresenting the noble Lord if I say that his point is that in Jupp's case it is an absurdity that public money, whether from the taxpayer or the ratepayer, should be spent on the expensive education of a promising student, only to have valuable time wasted by his going through the process of imprisonment, and so forth, which involves not only an interruption of his studies but a waste of everybody's time. I could not help wondering whether it was not this case which inspired the noble Lord to produce this Bill. But whether that was the case or not, and I think the noble Lord said it was, I cannot believe that it is particularly relevant. Indeed, if I may say so, it seems to me to be an example of the dangers of arguing from the particular to the general.

The point of the noble Lord's argument was not so much that Mr. Jupp had been imprisoned for disobeying an order, but that it was absurd that the time of a promising student upon whom public money had been spent, should be wasted in this way. One would have expected, therefore, that the Bill would say that promising students, upon whom public money had been spent and who had done their two years' service and had then developed a conscience, should have this special privilege. Of course, it could not be confined to promising students. Why not promising tinkers, tailors or candle-stick-makers? If we argue from the particular to the general, we come to the conclusion that we have to give a general concession; and that is what the noble Lord has done. I do not think there is anything more that I need say. I know the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, too well to doubt his sincerity. I know perfectly well that he believes in the freedom of conscience. On the other hand, I am perfectly convinced that he would not wish there to be any risk of such freedom being abused. It is because we believe that there is that risk, and that the Bill would open the door for possible abuse, that I must ask the House to refuse to give this Bill a Second Reading.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said that I should not be surprised at the attitude which the Government have taken towards this Bill, in a way he was right, although I confess that I had hoped for a more sympathetic answer from the Government. I felt that the noble Lords reply was rather aggressive and uncompromising. Of course, he is entitled to take that attitude if that is how he and those with whom he sits feel about it. So I am not surprised, although perhaps a little pained. I had some hope that the noble Lord might have offered me some administrative concessions, because although I should like to see this matter properly dealt with, as a matter of right under Act of Parliament, it is obvious that the problem could be quite satisfactorily dealt with by administrative means, if the authorities were prepared to make such arrangements.

When I was complimenting the authorities, I was complimenting not the Government but the Army authorities. In my view, the Army authorities have shown a great deal more sympathy and imagination than the Government in regard to this matter, and if it were left to the Army, who, after all, do not want this handful of tiresome conscientious objectors, I should not be at all surprised if they made the arrangements I should like to see. The trouble is that Government Departments get themselves argued into positions from which it is difficult for them to retire, and thus resist the most sensible, reasonable and just proposals put before them. I do not wish to repeat the arguments which I made to your Lordships in my opening speech, but it seems to me that the arguments which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, apply just as much, if not more, to the man when first called up as to these men. If the noble Lord is right about the danger of scrimshanking and about the importance of the whole people feeling satisfied that no one is being allowed to shirk, then he ought to remove altogether from the Statute Book the right to be a conscientious objector, because his arguments apply equally to the man called up first for two years as to the man when he has to do his fortnight at camp.

I seem to have made a mistake about the "Z" reservists, but surely the noble Lord is wrong when he says that these men are being given this right to register as conscientious objectors because previously they did not have the right. Every one of them must have been called up, and must have had the right which everybody has under the National Service Acts from the beginning. He is probably right in saying that they were given the right to register because the Army does not want to be saddled at the moment mar breaks out with a whole lot of men claiming that they should not be called up because they have become conscientious objectors in the meantime. But again this argument applies equally well to these men. Under the new Bill which I understand the Government have in hand, the period of service is to be extended, in fact, for another five years beyond the present period; and unless they make some sort of arrangement for these men of the same kind as exists for

"Z" reservists, they will be confronted with exactly the same sort of situation. However, that is to some extent beside the point in respect of the Bill before your Lordships' House this afternoon.

The noble Lord has suggested that there are anomalies in the Bill. This is, however, in effect, an amateur's Bill, and we do not pretend that it has been drafted with the skill of the expert draftsmen whom the Government have at their command. If there are any anomalies and difficulties, they could well be ironed out in the Committee stage, if the Government were willing not to resist the Bill so that it could receive a Second Reading. But obviously they are not prepared to do that. I appreciate that the big battalions are all on the side of the Government, and that in dividing the House I cannot expect to receive a great deal Of support. However, it is important that these matters of principle should be fought out, and therefore I propose to ask those of your Lordships who feel, with me, that there is an injustice here, that that injustice ought to be remedied, and that this Bill is a way of doing it, to go with me into the Division Lobby. By so doing, we shall, at any rate, show that there is a little candle for justice and liberty alight in this country at the present time.

On Question, Whether the Bill be now read 2ª?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 12; Not-Contents, 39.

Ammon, L. Chorley, L. [Teller.] Henderson, L.
Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.) Darwen, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.
Boyd-Orr, L. Faringdon, L. [Teller.] Rochester, L.
Burden, L. Hare, L. (E. Listawel.) Silkin, L.
Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.) Long, V. Glyn, L.
Swinton, V. Haden-Guest, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. President.) Templewood, V. Hampton, L.
Woolton, V. Leathers, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Lloyd, L.
Bagot, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Balfour of Inchrye, L. Mancroft, L.
De La Warr, E. Carrington, L. Salter, L.
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] De L'Isle and Dudley, L. Saltoun, L.
Munster, E. Derwent, L. Sandhurst, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Dorchester, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Selkirk, E. Ebbisham, L. Strathspey, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Teviot, L.
Devonport, V. Freyberg, L. Teynham, L.
Goschen, V. Gifford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.

House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.