§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I rise to draw attention to the position of conscientious objectors. Let me begin with a personal word. I was a conscientious objector during the First World War. I served sentences of one month, of three months, of one year, and of two years. I do not now hold the absolute pacifist views I held then, but I regard it as a moral obligation of those who went through that experience then to stand by the claims of young men today who are adopting a similar attitude.
The issue which we are discussing raises the very fundamental principle of the relationship of the State to the individual. The State now intervenes in nearly every aspect of life, but there is one sphere in human personality which this Committee has recognised to be free from that domination by the State. It is the sphere of human personality where there is the issue of right or wrong; where there is the issue of moral conviction; where there is the issue of conscience. I begin by recognising that on both sides of this Committee this principle has been accepted. Indeed, I suppose the noblest speech that has ever been delivered in this Chamber on this subject was by Lord Hugh Cecil from the Conservative benches.
This acceptance of the principle of the rights of conscience has caused Great Britain to lead the whole world in the liberality of its exemptions of conscientious objectors. The figures are remarkable. Between June, 1939, at the time of the Military Training Act, and December, 1952, 45,585 boys and young men were exempted by the tribunals. The number is probably larger because that figure relates only to the local tribunals, and nearly 50 per cent. of the cases which go to the appellate tribunals are varied. These figures not only reflect the liberal attitude of our State towards the conscientious objector, but they also, I suggest, in a very remarkable way reflect the sincerity of the men who have made applications for exemption on this ground. The sincerity of these men has been recognised by the tribunals in 45,000 cases out of 64,981 who have applied.
662 Nevertheless, while giving that recognition to our system, I must say that serious anomalies and defects remain, and it is clear that the present tribunal system is inadequate in recognising the sincerity of many of those who go before the tribunals. The figures show that up to December, 1952, 1,119 men have been court-martialled in the Forces for refusing orders on conscientious grounds during the same period, and 338 were court-martialled more than once. During the same period also, 5,576 went under civil prosecution.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I would point out on behalf of my own Department that if a man wants to go out as a conscientious objector, the Army certainly, and, I think, the other two Services, have no option but to court-martial him in order that he may have that opportunity.
§ Mr. Brockway
I was not complaining of the procedure of the military Forces. Obviously, if a man has been declared not to be sincere by the tribunals and he goes into the Armed Forces, the Armed Forces must act in that way, and the plea which I am making is that the defect in the tribunal system, which means that such a large number of these men go into the Armed Forces, does require the attention of this Committee.
I do not think there is any doubt that the majority of the men who go to the courts martial and who undergo civil prosecution are sincere. In war time particularly the attitude of the conscientious objector brings a contumely which it does require some moral strength to meet, and even in peace time the effects upon employment and upon the prospects of work are very considerable, and my plea tonight is that necessary revisions should be made to the present system. They have been made on a number of occasions in the past. The original military training and military service legislation required temporary service, but, unfortunately, conscription is becoming regarded as a permanent system, and I believe that we ought to learn from all these years.
I want first to deal with the tribunals. I have given the Minister the points which I wish to raise under this heading, and they are five. First, the conflicting interpretations of the Act by the 663 tribunals. The greatest issue here is whether the Act exempts only those who are absolute pacifists, or whether it exempts others as well. I was representing a conscientious objector at the London Appellate Tribunal when the Minister of Labour and National Service took a test case upon this issue. He won the case in the sense that the man I was representing was not granted exemption, but lost the case in the sense that the Appellate Tribunal declined to say that conscientious objection should be limited only to the pacifists in all circumstances.
I think that one need spend little time in arguing that point to the Committee. The objection can be conscientious even if it does relate to particular wars. If any one of us had been asked to fight for Germany in the last war, we would have refused and that refusal would have been through a deep conviction which was conscientious. In the case of this Appellate Tribunal it is recognised that conscience can be regarded as sincere in that way. Nevertheless, although the London Appellate Tribunal has accepted that principle, the Fulham local tribunal persistently refuses to accept it. Judge Hargreaves has used these words:This tribunal has always taken the view that we cannot grant exemption to persons who have objection to particular wars, but the objection must be to military service as such, regardless of whom we are fighting. I know that fighting a particular war may involve conscience, but our view of the wording of the Act is such that we have no power to grant exemption in such cases.The effect is that the Fulham tribunal rules in that way, the cases go on to the London Appellate Tribunal and the London Appellate Tribunal reverses the decisions. It has varied 51 per cent. of the decisions which have come from local tribunals on that and on other points. Therefore, my first plea to the Minister is that he should seek to secure that these tribunals, particularly when a lead is secured from the Appellate Tribunal, do interpret the Act in one way.
The second point which I want to raise is that of the personnel of the tribunal. I admit that I know of no more difficult task than for men to have to sit and judge whether someone is sincere or not. I acknowledge that I have very frequently represented these men, and I have been impressed by the effort of under- 664 standing and of sympathy which has been shown to them. But what one has experienced, particularly at the London Appellate Tribunal, has not been true of all tribunals. I will leave it to others to quote particular places, but I want to put to the Minister one special point in this respect.
This effort of understanding and sympathy does demand that a member of the tribunal should be very sensitive and very responsive in his mind and in his actions. I suggest to the Minister that some of the tribunal members who have been doing this work for many years, some of them since 1939, have lost that sensitivity and responsiveness. If I may use the word, they are becoming rather "stale" in their jobs. Only last month the chairman of a local tribunal died at the age of 83, and those who have gone before that particular tribunal will appreciate the point which I am trying to make.
The membership of the local tribunal is for one year. The decision as to whether the appointment is to be renewed is in the hands of the Ministry's Regional Controller. I want to suggest to the Minister that he should secure advice from local people attending the tribunal, from ministers of religion, from social workers and, maybe, from members of the local university staff; and that there should be a review of the set up of the present personnel.
The third point which I want to make concerns the venue of these tribunals. Again and again, as these Measures have gone through the House, we have had the promise from the Ministry that the proceedings at these tribunals should be friendly, informal, intimate and without the rigidities of the ordinary court of law. I acknowledge straight away that many of the tribunals I have attended have been carried on in that kind of spirit. But I want to draw the attention of the Minister to some exceptions.
The first is the tribunal which meets in the Fulham Town Hall, a large hall, with the chairman and the other members of the tribunal sitting on the mayoral and aldermanic bench with a well of space before them. A young man appearing before them is quite lost in this vast area and it is impossible in those circumstances to get a friendly, responsive atmosphere in which one can truly judge personality. I take the case of the Glasgow local 665 tribunal. It meets in the criminal court rooms with the officers of the court in attendance, and it is inevitable that they tend to treat applicants in a similar way to their treatment of defendants. I take the Leeds local tribunal. It meets in the county court, the members occupying the judge's bench, and a uniformed policeman is in attendance. It is absolutely impossible there to have the informal atmosphere which we were promised.
The fourth point to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister also relates to the loss of informal atmosphere in some of these tribunals. The Leeds and Glasgow local tribunals and the Edinburgh appellate tribunal require that the oath should be taken from all who appear before them. Under the Act, this is permissive to the chairman. It may be that the chairman if he feels he can gain the truth better by the administration of the oath should have the right to require the oath to be taken. I have been to many tribunals where that has not been done, but in these cases it is done invariably, and I am suggesting that it destroys that informal atmosphere which was promised to us.
My fifth and last point in relation to the tribunals to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister is the decreasing extent to which absolute exemptions are given. In one sense, the demand that unconditional exemption should be in response to conscience is a logical thing. It was an attitude which I took during the First World War, and which many of us took, that if were not prepared to go into the trenches under conscription we ought not to take any job at home under the same conscription law. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) even declined to accept as a condition of exemption his own teaching job. That is a logical and complete attitude. Between June, 1939, and December, 1948, although it was a war period, 2,937 exemptions of that kind were given. Between 1949 and 1952 only 79 exemptions were given by local tribunals. The percentage during the war was 4.7; the percentage since the war has been 2.7.
§ Mr. Brockway
Against alternative service, non-combatant service and other forms. Last year the percentage of those who received unconditional exemption fell to 2.2. From what I know of them, many of the men who take this attitude are the most sincere among the ranks of the conscientious objectors.
I now pass to the continued practice—though, I readily admit, it is on a much smaller scale—of the cat-and-mouse treatment of objectors. Even during the war I defended one man five times at courts-martial. He had gone through repeated periods of imprisonment, and only after that was his sincerity recognised. The position now is a great deal better. A man in the Forces is not court-martialled more than twice, and then he is discharged.
But there are frequent cases of men who refuse medical examination before they go into the Forces. It is a logical attitude that, if one objects to military service, one ought not to be content to take the medical examination to enter military service. In these instances there are still frequently three summonses for refusal and three punishments.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the Committee. That would only follow after the boy had been to the lower tribunal and the appellate tribunal.
§ Mr. Brockway
Certainly. That is my whole case, that the tribunals are not yet operating adequately, that we still have sincere people passing through them. I had hoped that the statistics that I have given were an indication of that.
With regard to men who refuse medical examination, the Minister of Labour and National Service has said that punishment will not be inflicted more than twice except where sentences are derisory, such as a very small fine. The Stratford and Acton courts are imposing such fines when medical examination is refused. At the Stratford court, the first time the fine is £10, the second time £15 and the third time £20. At the Acton court, the first time the fine is £10, the second time £20 and the third time £30.
Frankly, I very much dislike the association of conscience with the payment of a monetary fine as a means of not serving 667 in the Armed Forces. I ought to add that these men suffer not only the fine. They become practically unemployable. Their position is so uncertain that they cannot keep jobs. They always have the prospect of prison before them. The suffering which they undergo is very much more than that inflicted by a monetary fine.
That leads me to add that there is an extraordinary difference in the sentences of imprisonment imposed by other courts who do not impose fines. They vary from one month to 12 months. Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham almost invariably impose sentences of nine months. Glasgow imposes sentences of sometimes 12 months and sometimes six months. I ask the Minister to look into the whole matter again. It is clear that not only is there inconsistency but the cat-and-mouse principle is still being applied.
I now turn to a major defect in our present system. It relates to National Service men who pass into National Service at the age of 18 for two years and then have to do three and a half years' part-time service. It is now proposed that they should be in the Reserve for five years during a national emergency. The plea I wish to make is that men who have passed through National Service and have reached the age of 20 should have the opportunity to go before a tribunal as conscientious objectors before they do their three and a half years' part-time service. That principle has already been recognised in the case of Z reservists who are called up part-time. Why should it not be recognised in the case of these men? The formative years of one's mind and attitude do not end at the age of 20; they are between the ages of 18 and 25. The number of men concerned at present is small. There are 16 men who have gone through their National Service, have been called up for part-time service and have refused. Twelve have been court-martialled, and the Advisory Committee have recommended discharge from the Army in nine instances.
I wish to draw attention to a typical case. Stephen Wyatt, of Stretford, Manchester, was ordered to report for part-time service on 23rd August, 1952; did so; refused to put on uniform; was put under arrest: was released at the end of 14 days; summoned to court-martial on 27th September: was sentenced to 112 668 days' civil imprisonment; the advisory tribunal recommended his discharge on 2nd December and it took effect, after he had completed his sentence, on 10th December. That man came to his conscientious objection views after he had done his two years' National Service. He joined at 18 and his ideas developed afterwards. Surely the Minister would agree that he should have the opportunity to go to the tribunal without all the procedure of refusing orders and being court-martialled which is now involved. The Minister is to have an opportunity to carry out this proposal. Lord Chorley is introducing a Bill in. another place to carry out this suggestion, and I hope very much that the Government will support it.
I want to draw very special attention to the case of the boys who join the Forces when they are 14½ years and 15 years of age. They join until they are 18 and thereafter up to a period of 12 years. Public attention has been drawn to this matter, particularly since the formation of the Infantry Regimental Boys' Battalion in 1946 and their service there is limited to six years and three years in the Reserve. There are 12,000 boys involved. They have no opportunity at all of going to the tribunals to express conscientious objection if such an objection develops at 18.
§ Mr. Brockway
I am sorry, but I will give the right hon. Gentleman two instances. One concerns a boy, R. Garbutt of Birmingham, and I have left the details of that case with my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), who will give the details in his speech later on. The other is Daniel Lee of Colchester. He enlisted with the Army in 1948 at the age of 15 and was enlisted for 12 years' service from the age of 18. He developed objection on Christian grounds, refused orders and was sentenced on 7th February to 28 days' detention. When he reached 19 years of age he disobeyed orders again and was sentenced to 94 days' detention on 9th March. The advisory tribunal on 18th May recommended his discharge.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The case which my hon. Friend is quoting does not arise from boy's service at all.
§ Mr. Wigg
But he has told the Committee that this man was sentenced to detention when he was 19 years of age, which was a year after he passed from boy's to men's service. What my hon. Friend is putting forward is the case of a Regular soldier who develops conscientious objection. It is not a question of a boy at all.
§ Mr. Brockway
I am giving the case of a boy who enlisted at the age of 15. My appeal to this House is that boys who join the Army at so young an age should have an opportunity to go before a tribunal. This boy of 15 was to serve for 12 years. He developed his objection on Christian grounds, not when he was 19 but before he was 19, though his court-martial took place on 7th February when he had reached the age of 19. I submit that illustrates my case.
§ Mr. Head: indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Head
It is not really a boy's case, because the whole point seems to be that, although boys can change their minds during the period between a boy's and a man's service, the case the hon. Gentleman is quoting is the case of a Regular soldier. This youth was over 18 years of age, and we are talking about two different things. We are confusing the issue. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that a boy between 14 and 18 years of age should have the opportunity of saying that he has now become a conscientious objector. After 18 such a youth becomes a Regular soldier, and if we treat him in the way suggested by the hon. Member we will have to alter the whole system for Regular soldiers.
§ Mr. Brockway
The case I am arguing is that boys between 14 and 15 should have an opportunity to go before the appeals tribunal. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has argued that as this boy has reached 18 years of age he has passed the period of a boy's service and has become a Regular soldier. I will now give him a case which fits in exactly with the plea I am trying to put to the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood has returned to me the details of the case 670 to which I briefly referred earlier. This is the case of R. Garbutt, of Birmingham, who in July, 1951, at the age of 17 volunteered for the R.A.F. for five years' service and four years in the Reserve. He served 15 months and went absent without leave in October, 1952. He was 18 and he had conscientious objections. He was arrested in November, court-martialled in January, 1953, and sentenced to 112 days' detention. The tribunal recommended his discharge on 27th April when he had already served the full sentence. There is a boy who took that action when he was 18 years of age.
§ Mr. Brockway
I am not going to delay by arguing that point which does not seem to me to be of very much importance. The appeal which I am making is that boys of 14, 15, 16 or 17 should have the opportunity to go before a C.O. tribunal, an opportunity which is now denied them for they must go through the procedure of refusing orders, being court-martialled and serving a term of imprisonment before they have the right to go before the tribunal. This matter has been considered by the Select Committee and they regarded the necessary legislation as too complex. I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that while the legal form can be complex the procedure is simple and is that which is applied in other cases.
Finally—because I apologise for having taken up the time of the Committtee at some length—I want to urge that the British Government, which has taken a lead in this issue, should now take a lead in the international field. Fifteen of the 57 countries which have compulsory service make some provision for conscientious objection. In the case of West Germany it is actually a part of the Federal constitution, for Article 4 states that no German shall be obliged to performwar service with arms.My final appeal tonight is that Great Britain, having taken the lead in this more liberal treatment of those who are conscientious objectors, should seek to get 671 the same principle adopted and added to the Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which already states:Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.This is the heart of the difference between the totalitarian and libertarian States. Based on our own practice, I should like to see Britain take this challenge to all the nations of the world.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. G. H. R. Rogers (Kensington, North)
I rise for a few moments to bring to the attention of the Committee the particular case in which I am interested. I am not and was not a conscientious objector. I served in the last war without distinction; in fact, I may say with accuracy that I was one of those whose presence in the Army lengthened the war rather than shortened it. I raise this particular case because I have been rather shocked by the injustice, or perhaps it would be better to call it lack of imagination, of those who drew up the National Service Act. As I was not responsible for that, I suppose I may be allowed to say that I regard some aspects of the treatment of conscientious objectors under that Act as rather unimaginative.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) dealt with the case of the conscientious objector who served his National Service and found afterwards that he had developed a conscientious objection. I was extremely surprised to find that there was no provision in the Act for a man who changed his mind. It seemed to be assumed by those who drafted the Bill that there were no intellectual processes at all; that the minds of our population were static after a certain date or event. It was rather like saying that if a man does not believe in divorce before he is married, he cannot have one afterwards. It is ludicrous to say that, unless a man changes his mind before he is called up, there shall be no provision for him to change his mind afterwards without suffering a period of imprisonment.
After all, there were many men who joined up willingly in the days of 1914, when the nation was seized with war hysteria, speaking generally, and it was the carnage of the 1914–18 war that made many of them conscientious objectors. As a matter of fact, I was much influenced 672 by one of those men after the 1914–18 war when I was about 18. I would have been a Regular soldier and a man if I had been in the Army at that time, but I was still intellectually a boy. One of those men, whose mind had been changed by the dreadful slaughter in Flanders and who had come to the conclusion that war was wrong, persuaded me that conscientious objection was the right attitude for all men to take.
My attitude changed when Japan invaded Manchuria. I did not take the view of the literal Christian, who believes that one should literally obey the Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Incidentally, one of the hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches who tends to sneer at conscientious objectors is a good Christian, and I heard him deliver a sermon in church on one occasion when he stressed the importance of all of us obeying the Ten Commandments. He said that if humanity in Britain today literally followed the Ten Commandments, we would not have the trouble we have in the world. He did not say that he did not include the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill," yet he is one of those who is most bitter against conscientious objectors who believe that one literally should not kill.
We are all inconsistent in our behaviour sometimes, but I have never been able to understand why it is that some hon. Members should sneer at conscientious objectors, the assumption being that they are cowards. When a man describes another as a coward he tells us a lot about himself. Any psychiatrist will say that usually when a man calls another a thief, he is a thief himself, and when he calls another a coward, he is a coward himself. After all, we are all cowards, and there is not a single hon. or right hon. Member who has not been a coward at some time or another.
I was taught at school that there are plenty of men who have physical courge but few who have moral courage, and we find throughout our lives that there are plenty of people who can show great courage when it is merely physical but who will not say boo to a goose when it came to standing up for their opinion against a mass of opposition. In fact, moral courage is definitely a rarer human virtue than physical courage. I have known many conscientious objectors in 673 my time, but have never found one who lacked that great virtue of moral courage. I do not deny that there may be some, but all those I have met have been absolutely sincere and, in the main, prepared to go to the stake for their convictions, if necessary.
I know a young man who has the honour of being one of my constituents. He comes of a distinguished family and I have been in correspondence with the Admiralty about him. Why he does not want to serve in the Navy, I cannot understand, because that is what I have always wanted to do. They refused my services, which shows the great wisdom of the Navy. This young man served his two years' National Service and then discovered, I believe sincerely, that he had developed conscientious objections. So when he was called up for his annual fortnight's service he declined to serve and was sentenced to 42 days' detention.
Although, as the Minister replied, he was not statutorily entitled to appear before the appellate tribunal, arrangements were made for his appearance before a tribunal, but somehow or other he did not convince them of the genuineness of his objections. He told me that he was dissatisfied with the proceedings, and that in fact he did not feel he had a fair show. Even so, he chose to go to prison rather than serve his fortnight's service.
This year again he was served with a training notice. He refused to obey it, was arrested and was sentenced to 90 days' detention on 27th June. Again he elected to appear before the tribunal and his sentence has been suspended. He has been under detention for just a month, and the tribunal does not sit till 30th July. According to a letter which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour has sent me, it is probable that he will not have to serve a second sentence, but it seems to me that it ought to be possible for a young man, who has demonstrated his sincerity by preferring to go to prison instead of serving his fortnight's annual service, to go direct to the tribunal without having to undergo the ignominy and the suffering and the interruption of his employment which is inevitable when he is put into detention again before the tribunal meets.
674 It is time that we put right this defect in our legislation about National Service men, and I hope that, as a result of this debate, something will be done.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
I should like to follow for a minute or two the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) who has spoken about cowardice. If we are honest with ourselves we shall admit that we are all cowards at heart. Contrary to popular fiction and even classical fiction, I do not believe that there is such a person as a man or a woman who does not know fear. We are all afraid at certain times in our lives. Little boys, when they start playing football, are first of all afraid to tackle a larger opponent on the other side. Equally, small boys are afraid when they have to stand up to speak in public for the first time. Those fears follow us into our adult life as well. The people who are exceptionally brave are those who have battled with these fears at close quarters and have overcome them. So much for the charge made by many of us that conscientious objectors may be cowards.
I have the honour to represent a constituency in which there is a large body of Quakers, most admirable people with exceedingly fine religious and moral principles. Many of those people are conscientious objectors. Also many of them, in spite of that, have refused what they look upon as strictly military service but have undertaken duties which expose them at certain times to even greater dangers. I need not enlarge on that. All hon. Members of this Committee know of the many cases of Quakers, and others, who have refused strict military service but have been examples of outstanding bravery as stretcher bearers, ambulance drivers, and any other similar para-military organisations.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) spoke of the powers of the State over the individual in this modern world of ours. I agree that the State has tremendous powers over the individual, but I should like to stress that in a modern and highly organised State—in fact in the modern world as it is today—there is a corollary to that: 675 it is the responsibility of each and every man for the common safety of his State or even for a group of nations. I should like the Committee to dwell on that thought for a little while.
People talk with a certain amount of extraordinary conceit of being pacifist. Are we not all of us, all sensible and sincere men and women, pacifists in that we hate war and we would do all that we could to stop it? I can see nothing funny, unusual or idealistic in being a pacifist. It is an aim towards which we are all striving. I do not think that people can stand up and say "I am a pacifist," and expect to be treated differently from the rest of us.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough mentioned certain points on which he felt existing legislation should be altered. On some of the points I agree entirely. It is quite wrong that monetary fines should be exacted from those who refuse a military duty if the tribunals consider them insincere in their feelings. There should always be conditional exemptions—the condition where those who are really brave and who feel very strongly on this matter have the option of doing some equally unpleasant duty as the duty of military service. I refer, of course, to those difficult and dangerous jobs which some of the Quaker people did in both world wars.
The regulations should be examined. There is a great danger that it may be made more easy for people not only to be cowards but to escape from dangers which all of us have to face by pretending that they are something when they really do not know what they mean—something which they cannot really express in their own minds and thoughts or describe to the tribunals which they face. I suggest that the law concerning conscientious objectors should be most carefully reviewed. In many directions it is most desirable that it should be tightened to avoid those loopholes where people who have not sincere moral and religious objections can escape without performing military duties.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)
I preface my remarks by gladly acknowledging that in my opinion Great Britain has probably the most enlightened standpoint of all the nations on this question. 676 I say that despite the fact that I realise that there is considerable substance in what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fermer Brockway) in his criticism of the administration of our legislation on the question of conscience.
My reason for intervening is to deal with what is to me the completely mysterious anomaly of those who form conscientious objections during or after their National Service. I refer to those who form conscientious objections to military service between the ages of 18 and 20 or sometimes even in the middle twenties. The acceptance by the whole personality of all that is involved in conscientious objection is a very varied experience which involves different elements. It involves an intellectual element. One might well have a great emotional experience. Then there is the element of volition—the act of will; the act of decision; one clear-cut decision.
This makes it very difficult for any tribunal perfectly to administer what we would call equity and justice. While by and large, despite the exceptions referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough, we would accept that the people who sit on the tribunals do their best to analyse these motives to test their authenticity and sincerity, I submit that, with the best will in the world, they cannot perform that important function with perfection. I am not trying to prove anything very startling when I say that I have known people who have been tongue-tied and reticent, as some people are about their emotions and feelings. They have been at a complete disadvantage vis-à-vis those who happen to be fairly eloquent, glib, facile, or easy in expressing their views.
I hope that this discussion will lead to tangible results and that one serious anomaly will be set right. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour to remember this. If he consulted religious authorities of all denominations throughout the centuries he would find that what we, possibly vaguely, describe as religious conversion takes place between the age of 18 and 25. I remember as a young theological student studying the research work of a sociologist in America named Professor Starbuck. He made a very closely-knit scientific analysis in America of what is 677 described as religious conversion, and the age factor revealed in that analysis was that religious conversion takes place between the age of 18 and 25. For the law of our country to suggest that there must be a hiatus, because a person is undergoing National Service, where there can be no spiritual, intellectual, emotional, aesthetic or humanitarian feelings, is surely a very bold and very dangerous assertion to make.
Though, in the first instance, I am speaking as an individual, who feels that we have done well as a nation by conscientious objectors since 1939, I also have the permission of the Free Church Federal Council, which represents officially the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians and the Unitarians——
§ Rev. LI. Williams
Very well, we exempt the Unitarians. This Council has passed a very strongly-worded resolution with regard to this anomaly, and I should like to read it to the Committee. It is as follows:When Parliamentary consideration is given to its renewal, the Council calls for the repair of a serious defect in the Act. There are no provisions made for men who genuinely acquire pacifist convictions during or after their National Service to register as conscientious objectors to any further service. Such provisions exist already for Z Reservists, who have no statutory obligation to National Service under the National Service Act. It would appear that only after a sentence of three months' imprisonment has been imposed can an appeal be lodged for examination of a man's conscientious objection to further service. The Council deeply deplore the suggestion that it should be official policy that the only way of ascertaining conscientious conviction is by imprisonment, and calls for a more considerate treatment of the problem.One can so easily speak at length on this subject, but I said my intervention was to be brief, and I would only ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour to remember that this conscientious objection, involving so many facets of the individual personality, can take place in that very important period in a young man's life. I hope that, as a result of this debate, this anomaly in a very fine piece of legislative administration will be redressed.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Sir Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)
It was not my intention to intervene in this debate, but the speeches I have just heard have led me to make a short intervention, because I have had experience in sitting on the tribunals for hearing the cases of conscientious objectors. Indeed, I sat through no fewer than 20,000 cases in London during the war.
These tribunals, of course, were set up under the Militia Act, 1938, but we had no occasion to sit until we were called upon with the outbreak of the calamity of 1939. The tribunal with which I was connected comprised the whole of the London area, and the counties of Essex, Surrey, Hertford, Buckingham and Kent—a very large area indeed. We set to work without any previous experience to guide use, nor did we have, nor could we have, any directions as to how we were to set about our task, because no such tribunals ever existed previously in this country, nor, as far as I know, in other countries, in regard to compulsory military service.
I should like to give the Committee the benefit of that experience, and I would say that what the hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. Ll. Williams) has said contains a great deal of truth. We must not rule out the possibility that any young man, at the very vulnerable age of 18 to 25, may have very different ideas of what his duty in life should be in certain directions, or certainly be liable to change his religious beliefs; but, on the other hand, from my own experience, I would say that, in regard to conscientious objection to military service, it does not fall too readily to people to make the objections which some young men are perhaps inclined to make.
Some of us know that there has been in existence for several years in this country a religious body, which I will not name, which set out especially to encourage and assist young men to frame and make objections to military service which very many of them had no intention whatever of considering. That is one aspect of this matter, and I do not doubt that a fair number of those who developed a conscientious objection to military service were very often influenced by such bodies as that to which I have referred. There is another very 679 well-known body, which does not profess to be a religious body, which for many years has had the same object in view. It has spared neither time nor money for several years in getting young men to register as conscientious objectors to military service.
In the enormous number of 25,000 cases with which I was concerned, it was most gratifying and encouraging to find that many young men who came before the tribunal—certainly, a majority of them—and who were quite convinced that they had a conscientious objection to serving in the Army, were perfectly satisfied, after the tribunal had dealt with their cases, to accept without question the judgment of the tribunal. The tribunal received many letters in the course of the years from men serving in the Army who had been before it and who expressed their thanks for the fair treatment they had received, and indeed went on to praise, shall we say, the encouragement which the tribunal had given them at the time they were told that that body could not allow their objections to be sustained and that they would have to do military service.
On the whole, I think that these tribunals can reach a very fair and proper judgment in the case of young men who really have a conscientious objection to military service. I think that men who have started their military service and who then develop a conscientious objection to further service should have the opportunity of presenting those objections to a tribunal before they are court-martialled or before any action is taken in regard to their service. I think it would be showing a proper sense of justice if we allowed such men to be heard before a tribunal prior to their being sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
I do not know whether that practice is followed at the moment, but if it is not, then I think it should be. I do not think that the Services would uffer from the fact that they were likely to lose a valuable lot of men. In my view, we should give these men an opportunity to put their objection before a tribunal, and when the tribunal has reached its decision it should be in the position to say whether a man should be released from military 680 service and whether he should perform some alternative service.
It was perfectly easy during the war to put these B and C category men into other occupations and to utilise their services to the full; but in peace-time conditions are naturally rather different, and it would be very difficult for a tribunal, which had decided that a man should be exempted from military service on conscientious grounds, to put him to other work which would meet the wishes of the Services themselves. That might be something to which the Service chiefs might address themselves.
If that were done then the gravamen of the complaints made that we are creating a great injustice in forcing such men to continue their military service and are sending them to prison for refusing to perform such service could not any longer be held against us. We should be fair to these young men. and, at the same time, we should make sure that the tribunals can deal with them as they did during the war.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I am not a conscientious objector, and I have no particular qualifications for speaking either for or about conscientious objectors, although I respect those who sincerely and conscientiously believe that it is wrong to take part in war or to perform military service.
I have some knowledge of the tribunals which hear these cases, although I have not attended in recent years. I think there could be improvements. I feel sure that it is better to have an intimate atmosphere rather than, for example, the atmosphere of a county court which, I believe, is still the venue for the tribunal which sits in Leeds. On the whole, I think that those who serve on these tribunals perform a difficult task with impartiality and to the best of their ability, although I do not question the greater knowledge of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway).
I think it is fair to say that the fact that time and care are taken in considering these cases of conscientious objection, not only in peace-time but also in time of war when the security of the nation is threatened, is to our credit as a nation. It is one of those aspects of our life which 681 distinguish this country from a totalitarian State.
I believe that the inherent liberalism—if hon. Members do not like it with a capital "L" I will use it with a small "1"—in a nation, the liberal character and outlook of a nation, is shown by the attitude adopted towards minorities, and, in particular, towards individuals who for reasons of conscience object to the laws and refuse to accept the discipline, which the majority of the people accept, believing them to be necessary on grounds of security and for their own protection. If this be so and if the procedure of the tribunal is right and is based on an enlightened policy there surely is no justification for exceptions to that procedure.
A very strong case has been made out for remedying one of those anomalies which have been mentioned during this debate. I do not know how many people are affected. It may be comparatively few, but that is not important. When one is considering a breach of principle one should not look so much at the number affected as at the principle itself. The great principles of British justice have been built up by considering individual cases, sometimes persons of no great importance, humble people, who have felt that they have a grievance or that their liberty was being interfered with. If we had only considered grievances where a great many people were affected, our standard of justice would not be that of which we now have such reason to be proud.
This case of the National Service man may not involve many people although a number of cases are known to Members in this Committee. Undoubtedly there is felt to be an injustice. This may occur after calling up and before completion of National Service or before recall for part-time service. It is the latter type of case to which I would like to refer. The procedure has already been mentioned and is well known. There is no way whereby a National Service man who has completed his two years can appear before a tribunal except by refusing to obey an order for recall, being arrested and court-martialled, and sentenced usually to three months' imprisonment. Only then can he apply for his case to be heard by an advisory tribunal of the Ministry of Labour. If the deci- 682 sion is favourable, the recommendation is accepted by the Service authorities.
This procedure can best be illustrated by taking the case of one individual. I understand that this individual is known to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) who took an active interest in his case. He is known to me only because he went to a school of which I am a governor. His name is Brian Jupp. My information was obtained from a statement by the headmaster of the school and from another governor who both know the young man very well. I have a high regard for these gentlemen who have supplied me with this information.
Brian Jupp was born in London in 1929. and lived as a boy in Coventry where both his parents were killed in an air raid in 1941. He was seriously injured. On recovery, he was sent to the school in Yorkshire to which I have referred. He left in 1946, and from 1946 to 1949 was at London University, where he took his B.Sc. He was called up for National Service in 1949. Though he had serious doubts at that time, he did not feel sufficiently assured to register as a conscientious objector.
While in the Forces his conviction on the subject of war service became stronger, and he informed his commanding officer that he felt unable to proceed with training for a commission. The commanding officer was sympathetic, and transferred him to the Education Corps where he acted as a teacher. In April, 1952, that is after his discharge from National Service, he received a notice to report for additional training. By then he was a convinced objector. He wrote stating that he could not comply with the notice, giving his reasons. The authorities took no action until 22nd October, 1952, when he was arrested as a deserter, kept in close detention until 17th November, court-martialled and sentenced to three months' imprisonment.
Then, and only then, was he able to appear before the advisory tribunal as an appeal against the sentence. His case was heard on 16th December. He satisfied the tribunal of his sincerity. The War Office did not act at once on the finding but he was released on 7th January, 1953. He was imprisoned, therefore, including his period of detention, for approximately two and a half months.
683 I tried to ascertain the reasons and the justification for all this. I asked a Question on 17th February. 1953, first as to the place and period of his detention. I was told that the prisons in which he was detained were Canterbury, Eastchurch and Wormwood Scrubs and the period was 47 days. I asked:Is it not anomalous that one who is found to be a genuine conscientious objector should be compelled to serve a sentence of imprisonment before his case is heard?The reply of the Under-Secretary of State for War was:Where a soldier who had a chance of claiming conscientious objection before his service started develops a conscientious objection during his service, we want to be satisfied that the objection is bona fide. Therefore, he has to provide some form of evidence that he really does believe what he says has developed, and as soon as that has been done, he is released, as in the case of this man."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 1064.]I gather that this period of imprisonment is regarded as necessary as a means to obtain evidence whether or not a man is sincere in stating that he is a conscientious objector. If that is the best procedure that we can adopt, let us apply it to all objectors; but if the procedure of the tribunal is better and more enlightened let that be applied to this kind of case as to others.
I asked another Question on the following day, 18th February, 1953. In view of the time at my disposal I do not propose to read it out, but I asked whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence agreed with the answer which I have just quoted given by the Under-Secretary of State for War. He did not answer my specific Question, but the answer that he gave fell into three parts. First, he said:The hon. Gentleman realises that there is nothing new about this practice. It has been going on for a number of years. …If the practice is satisfactory and is in accordance with the principles of British justice I am wasting the time of the Committee in raising it at all, but if it is unsatisfactory and contrary to the spirit of British justice then surely there is no justification in saying that it has been carried on for a number of years.
Secondly, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said,… hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that National Service, both 684 whole-time and part-time, is a heavy burden upon the young men of this country. Those who seek to evade it should not be able to do so lightly. …The whole function and purpose of the tribunals is to ascertain whether a man is trying to avoid National Service. The tribunal sees that he does not do so lightly. That is what the tribunal is for. Surely there is no excuse for insisting upon this period of imprisonment before a man has the opportunity of going before the tribunal.
The last part of the answer which I have been quoting reads:Such men as the hon. Member has in mind have already had a chance, when being called up, to state their conscientious objection and they have not done so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 1232.]This third line of defence seems to be based on the assumption that a youth of 18 must make up his mind for all time on this extremely important moral issue, and having once failed to register as a conscientious objector he has no right to change his mind. I find it very difficult to understand why a man, merely because he is a few years older and rather more mature, should undergo what I call the Wormwood Scrubs test rather than face a tribunal which this country has set up specifically for the purpose of hearing the claims of conscientious objectors.
From whatever angle one considers these matters, there appear to be anomalies; indeed, they are more than anomalies, since they are contrary to the whole spirit of British justice. Whatever may come out of this debate, I hope it will result in a reconsideration by Her Majesty's Government of these anomalies in the procedure for dealing with those who, often after much deliberation, with sincere conviction decide that they cannot participate in military service.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
This is a most important and interesting debate, and there seems to be a general consensus of opinion that what has been said by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) accords with the idea of British justice. On the aspect of the right to change one's mind at an early age and to appear before a tribunal, I recall the case that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) mentioned in particular. This boy was only 17 when he 685 joined the Army and, having been court-martialled and sentenced to 112 days' detention, the tribunal recommended his discharge after he had served his sentence. British justice holds that it is wrong that punishment should be delivered before the verdict.
I should like now to deal with the main case which my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough made. Some time ago I raised with the Minister of Labour and National Service the question of the necessity for issuing some kind of regulations for the purpose of guiding local tribunals. I was very concerned about complaints which were made about the Midland tribunal, and in consequence I went to the tribunal to examine the problem for myself. I may say that although I am fairly well known in Birmingham, for some reason or other, the tribunal did not know that I was sitting in the audience until three parts of the cases had been heard. I was completely shocked by some of the questions that were put.
I should like to ask the Minister if he would consider giving to the tribunals some guidance, even if it is not in the form of a regulation, on the process of examination of conscience. There should be a caution about the avoidance of the trap questions. Over the past 18 months in Birmingham, every time there has been a sitting of the tribunal there have been headlines in the Press about the questions that have been put to conscientious objectors. It seems to be customary, first of all, to ask an objector what his job is, and whatever it is, it is in some way related, especially by one member of the tribunal, to the Bible. For example, when they considered the case of a fishmonger, they spent most of the time discussing the humane methods of killing lobsters, and one member of the tribunal seemed horrified at the idea that lobsters should be boiled alive.
I want to refer to specific evidence which was taken before one of these tribunals, in order to illustrate my point. I shall quote from a report which was prepared by a very well known firm of shorthand writers in Birmingham. This is a verbatim note of what took place when a conscientious objector told the Chairman that he worked with a firm of photographers. The questions were asked by a members of the tribunal: 686(Q.) You are a photographer?—(A.) Yes, Sir.(Q.) You believe in the Ten Commandants?—(A.) Wherein they apply as Christ endorsed them.(Q.) How do you account for being a photographer when it tells you in the Commandments: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth'?—(A.) That, Sir. I believe to be referring to graven images.(Q.) I omitted that part because I didn't think it relevant. I will finish it and give it to you in full, now, then: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.' That is the business in which you are engaged: in making likenesses, isn't it?—(A.) I would agree, Sir, but I believe that was referring to the worship of idolatory; that was referring to where worship was entailed, therefore excluding the worship of God.(Q.) It might be a likeness of anything There is no question of …—(A.) I believe that does not conflict with the work I am doing.I should like to give a second quotation in which the same member of the tribunal puts questions to an applicant who is a Jehovah Witness.(Q.) Why do you spell Jehovah' with only one 'H'? …
§ Mr. Yates
(A.) That is how I have always seen it spelt.(Q.) (To Sponsor): What about your friend?—(A.) In English it's 'Y-H-W-H' as translated from the original Hebrew.(Q.) You spell it with two 'H's', don't you?—(A.) No. The common method is that there's one capital 'H' and one small…(Q.) Why don't you agree instead of dodging the thing? You try to get away with it by deceiving me by saying there is one capital 'H' and one small 'h'?—(A.) Yes, well, I don't see, myself. Sir, what that has got to do with the subject.Frankly, neither do I.
Those are two examples of a number, and the Minister may have that full verbatim report if he wants to examine it, to see other questions equally far away from the real point of examining a man's conscience. I should have thought, from that, that it was necessary to have some guidance about it.
The gentleman who put those questions was appointed to the tribunal in 1939. Therefore, this kind of questioning has been going on all these years. If 687 it were just an isolated case, it would not be so bad, but a week ago in that tribunal this question was put to an applicant:You object on religious grounds. Then will you tell me who is the oldest character in the Book of Genesis?The applicant replied:Methuselah.Then, said the questioner:Who was Methuselah's father?I ask the Minister what that has to do with conscience.
It is extremely difficult for young men to know what is expected of them at a tribunal. For example, a week ago a young man, a Quaker, was turned down by the Midlands tribunal. They had full evidence of his membership of the Society of Friends and that he was a Sunday school teacher. He was declined on the ground that he was a draughtsman at the Austin Motor Company, Limited. It was stated, and it was mentioned in the Birmingham Press, that it was quite clear that he had never been associated with any kind of war contract. It seems very difficult for a young man that he cannot be allowed as a draughtsman for motor cars because his firm has contracts for the Ministry of Supply.
Then there is the question of the young man who is deferred because he is following his educational pursuits. There was another case before the Midlands tribunal only a week ago of a young man who belongs to a well-known pacifist family which is well known to the Labour movement. He had obtained scholarships which took him to a grammar school, and from the grammar school he went on to the university. He had developed a conscientious objection, and it could be said that he had declined to be a member of his school cadet force. Nevertheless, in spite of this, and despite the fact that the university authorities had told him that he must concentrate on his studies and not be engaged in outside activities, he has now received notice from the tribunal stating that although they are satisfied he has a full pacifist background, they are not convinced that his activities are consistent with his background and views. That same young man has, also today, been notified that he has passed his examinations and is to be awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree, with 688 honours. He will go to the appellate tribunal, and I have not the slightest doubt that he will be one of those to whom my hon. Friend has referred whose cases are reversed. I am convinced that if the Minister looks into that case he will find there is absolute justification for the man's conscience.
I should like the Minister to give consideration to the kind of advice and guidance that could be given on such questions as those of a man's job and of what is expected of the individual, so that a man cannot be trapped, but is given a fair and a just chance. Sufficient has been said tonight to justify the request for additional machinery for reviewing the work of the tribunal system, and particularly the suitability of the members of the tribunals upon whom rests the responsibility of a fair interpretation of the conscience clause. I am not making a general charge against the members of the tribunals. I have had other cases mentioned to me at other tribunals, and I am sure that members of the tribunals try to discharge their responsibility in the way they consider right and proper. I am asking only that in some way we examine the system with a view to giving the members more guidance.
It would help immensely if witnesses could always be heard. Sometimes there is a tendency to brush the witness on one side, and to appear not to be willing to hear him. A week ago there was an interesting case in Birmingham. I was informed about it by a number of people who attended. A Quaker took a witness with him who happens to be a rather well known person in Birmingham. The chairman said to the applicant, "You are a member of the Society of Friends? You object to military service on religious grounds?" Then, pointing to the witness standing next to the applicant, he asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "My name is Mr. Paul S. Cadbury." He then said, "And are you a member of the Society of Friends?"
§ Mr. Yates
I do not say that, but complaints have been made to me about the inability of witnesses to give their views. I am stressing this point because of an experience I myself had in the case of 689 one of the most sincere conscientious objectors I have ever met. I went to the tribunal with him as a witness. It was at the beginning of the war. Frankly, I was not very well aware of the procedure. I stood there, and I expected to be called upon to give witness, but I was quite ignored. The man's case was turned down. Later we went to the appellate tribunal, and I asked whether I might be allowed to say what I had wanted to say in Birmingham. I made my statement, and the chairman of the appellate tribunal accepted it and reversed the decision of the local tribunal. I am quite sure that witnesses can be of great assistance, if they are heard.
I know that the work of the present tribunals is exceedingly difficult. It is exceedingly difficult to sit in judgment on the consciences of other people. We must realise that this is indeed a difficult job. I appeal to the Minister to give full consideration to what my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough has said, and to what all the others who have spoken have said, and to the arguments they have brought forward, for I am convinced that if he will accept them in the spirit in which we have offered our criticisms that will be to the benefit of the nation and its prestige in the world.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
This has been a very carefully conducted debate, and I will reply to it as sincerely and as carefully as I can. I think that the Committee would like me to try to answer the various points which have been raised, and also to put the general considerations which any Government must have in mind when dealing with this very difficult and important issue.
After all, the foundation of National Service—and I think that I shall carry the whole Committee with me in saying this—is that it is necessary, and fairly and equally applied. So in my opening remarks I think that I should put the point that Her Majesty's Government, and any Government, must always look carefully at any method, however right it may be, which offers a way of avoiding National Service. It must always be the attitude of the Government to preserve equality of sacrifice and fairness of service and 690 to look carefully at anything which may offer an opportunity of evasion.
It must also preserve the right of conscience because that is one of the essential purposes for which National Service exists—to help defend it. So it is a difficult problem. Any Government must try to keep a fair balance between these two relevant considerations. It must see, first, that it does not offer an easy way for a man to buy or work his way out of what is a national obligation, and, secondly, it must try to preserve the freedom of conscience in which we all believe so strongly.
I shall try to deal first with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway). I think that the first point of substance which he raised, and which has been raised by other hon. Members as well, is the problem of what is alleged to be conflicting interpretations by tribunals. We have to face the fact that under the Act itself the tribunal is a completely independent and judicial body, and it is not possible or desirable that it should have a rule book or be subject to directions from the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am glad that my hon. Friend, who has so much experience of this matter, agrees with me. It would destroy the whole basis of these tribunals if we subjected them to directions from the Ministry of Labour. The reason I think that one is bound to have a certain degree of conflicting interpretations is that the tribunal itself has no case law, and because I think that if it is doing its work fairly and properly it must treat every case on its merits. Conscience is not a thing which, in my view, one can define exactly, and if a tribunal does not discuss each case fairly and accurately on its merits, I do not think that it can be doing its job properly.
I see the difficulty which has been raised by some hon. Members, and we will look most carefully at any evidence which seems to indicate that a tribunal is not conducting itself in a fair and proper way. I am not for a moment accepting that this is true of any tribunal, but I will certainly respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), and if he will send me the 691 transcript of which he read out small portions I shall be very glad to examine it. That is the proper thing to do.
The second point as to safeguards is not only the fact that any hon. Member has the right to be present at a tribunal and to make representations upon its work—the real safeguard is the right of appeal to the appellate tribunal. After all, that is why the upper tribunal was established, to provide a safeguard and a court of appeal. On the whole, as some hon. Members have said. I believe the machinery has not worked too badly.
The membership of tribunals was mentioned by several hon. Members. It has been said that some who have been members since the beginning of the war have become a little stale in their task. We take the contrary view. We think that in this very difficult job to which they are committed, with no case law and no possibility of direction or instruction, some value is gained by their having seen before them a large number of cases in that it helps them to make the most difficult, but the most essential, judgment which a tribunal has to make as to the genuineness or falseness of the representations made to it by the man whose case is being heard. So we do not accept the view that relatively long service on a tribunal is necessarily a bad thing.
I am glad that some hon. Members have paid a tribute to the work of the tribunals. We were all glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Sir S. Marshall), who served on a tribunal, describe some of the difficulties of the tribunals and refer to some of the compliments which they have received for trying to produce fair and just judgments. It is our experience that that is the only thing that the tribunals try to do. It is very often a thankless task—I am sure the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) will not disagree with that—and a difficult task, and I confess that we sometimes find it difficult to persuade people of the necessary standing and judgment to serve on the tribunals, because it is an onerous task. It is fair to say that, on the whole, the members try to do their best.
The third point raised was about where the tribunals are held and whether the atmosphere is rather harsh. Reference 692 was made to the Leeds court, with the policeman in it, and the judicial surroundings. Let me say at once that we shall, of course, carefully study the points which have been raised on both sides of the Committee. The point which has been made about the atmosphere of the tribunals is a very relevant one, but we must not go to the other extreme and assume that we have to provide such a friendly and cosy atmosphere that the judicial function of the tribunal is lost. After all, the tribunal performs a judicial function; it is taking a very serious decision which may seriously affect a man's life and career.
That also applies to the point about evidence on oath. I should have thought that most people would have preferred to have the proceedings on oath, knowing the great difficulties and also the great responsibilities which rest on the tribunal. I should have thought it an essential safeguard. I must make it plain that it is entirely a matter for the tribunal. As hon. Members have said, some use that procedure and some do not. I am expressing a personal view when I say I should have thought most people would have preferred evidence on oath as an additional safeguard to the reaching of a right judgment, which is what we are all concerned with.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I have only limited time in which to wind up the debate and I must press on if hon. Members are to receive answers to their questions. I shall not go into the question of the relevant changes in conditions because, as I have said, it is our view that the tribunals must be allowed to do their work subject to the general public interest and must be allowed to interpret their affairs in the way they think best.
I now come to the point of substance which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough called cat-and-mouse treatment. The point was also raised by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. LI. Williams). Just to make sure that we are on the same point, it is that of the National Service man who serves his full two years and then develops a conscientious objection and suffers the difficulties which hon. Members on both sides 693 of the Committee have described. The matter has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and it is up to me to try to deal with the points raised.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I will deal with the point because it is the one which has received most attention in the debate, and I want to answer it as fully as possible. First of all, to get the record right, the real point of substance was raised during the days of the previous Government, and perhaps it would be as well if I give the actual reference to it, and the Committee will see exactly on what we rest today, because it is still the same.
Perhaps I had better explain at this juncture that for the moment I am dealing with generalities. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough, when he interrupted me, was thinking in terms of the National Service man, and I will deal with that point. But at the moment I am dealing with generalities. On 21st May, 1947, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, said:… no man is prosecuted after he has served a prison sentence or sentences amounting to three months or more, and which provide, furthermore, that a man is not prosecuted more than twice even if these two prosecutions have resulted in prison sentences of less than three months, except where the sentences are derisory, for instance, small fines."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1947; Vol. 437, c. 2421.]That was the position as defined by the previous Government, and that is the position which we are maintaining today. While it does result sometimes in a man receiving two or more fines, or sometimes two periods of imprisonment, there is the Act and that was the interpretation placed on it. We see no reason to change the general procedure laid down by the previous Government.
I will come now to the more special point of the National Service man, and this is an important point. It is the point of the man who has done two years' service and then goes back into civil life. He may, of course, have a period of up to about 12 months, and then have to go for his reserve training. The point put by 694 hon. Members on both sides of the Committee is that a man in that time may, for what cause we know not, develop a conscientious objection. Therefore, when he is summoned he refuses. He is still subject to military law and he does not go to the civil courts. He must be court-martialled.
Hon. Members have rather taken the view that he has to be court-martialled and he has to serve three months' sentence before anything can be done. I should like to make it plain that this follows what is in the Act, and that there is no option on any commanding officer other than to have a court martial. The period of sentence is normally three months, because if it is not three months the man is not given the right of appeal to an appellate tribunal.
By administrative action we have done something to meet this point, and I should like to explain this carefully because it will meet some of the points made. First of all, there is the question whether a man should be court-martialled at all. We take the view that this cannot be claimed to be the same case as the Z Reservist. He has had several years in civilian life, and he is a good many years older than when he did the original service, and that in our view is quite a different case.
This young man, not much more than three years ago, knew he would be called for military service, and he also knew at that time that he could register as a conscientious objector and go through the tribunal procedure. He might well be excused there, but he did not do that. He missed that chance. Nobody can define courage and nobody can define conscience. One or two hon. Members have tried to do it tonight, but they are not definable. I am not arguing that a man may not genuinely develop this change of heart, but to protect the broad mass of men who do their service, sometimes at grave risk, we must ask the man who has a change of heart to prove it in some way.
So far as we and previous Governments have seen, there is no better way of doing it than to say, "If you have genuinely suffered a change of heart, you must run the risk of a court-martial and of the detention that will follow." The court-martial is the military authority, but as soon as that has taken place and the man exercises his right to appeal to the appellate tribunal, it then becomes the respon- 695 sibility of my Ministry and we try to get him heard as quickly as possible. I am not saying that there is not a delay sometimes of some weeks because it depends when the next tribunal sits. Until the case is heard, he has to stay in detention, but when it is heard, and if he is accepted and the tribunal grants his case, the remainder of the sentence is remitted immediately.
We must have that test of sincerity but, having accepted that, we try to bring the man to a hearing as quickly as possible. If the hearing discharges him from further obligations, he is released and not required to serve the balance of his sentence, as he could be on the line indicated by the Act. So we try to keep the balance between fairness and between meeting the needs of conscience. We are always prepared to look at these things again. Indeed, we have only just looked carefully at that procedure with the Service Departments and we have not been able to see a better way of dealing with it.
With regard to the point about the boys, I am sorry that I have not time to deal with the specific cases raised, but if the hon. Member concerned will send them to me, I will undertake to look into them carefully. There was a certain divergence of opinion between the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and other hon. Members as to whether the two cases quoted came under the heading of boys or not. I do not think that is important to the argument. A Select Committee has looked carefully into this and has laid down procedure which I shall not bother to read to the Committee because I am sure hon. Members are familiar with it already.
Again this is a question where the Select Committee could have put into its report a long and elaborate legal procedure to try to say that the boy had a right to have his case heard as a conscientious objector on reaching the age of 18. It was decided, however, that it would be better to have an administrative procedure whereby his case could be dealt with. I do not think the two cases mentioned by the hon. Gentleman fell within the requirements and I still think it is right to say that we have yet to have a case of this kind. Where there is a case, it would be dealt with administra- 696 tively. The boy would not suffer any penalties, as far as we can see, and he would have the option of leaving the Service at the moment when he left the Boys' Battalion and had to join the Regular Services. If, of course, he takes the choice and joins the Regular Services, it is a different matter.
Many other points have been raised. There was the point of whether we should try to pursue this by international action. As hon. Members know, under the Declaration of Human Rights there has been a certain safeguard for a long time now and there have been efforts to draft additional instruments. One of them contains provisions which would, we think, to some extent cover the point of the conscientious objector. The provisions at present proposed, which are acceptable to Her Majesty's Government, read:No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour. … For the purpose of this paragraph, the term 'forced or compulsory labour' shall not include any service of a military character, and, in countries where conscientious objection is recognised, any National Service required by law of conscientious objectors.Whether that will eventually be enacted or not, I am not prepared to say, but that is the position on the international front.
In the few moments remaining I want to revert to the general principles, because I think those are really important. What the country and the Committee have to be satisfied about is that the Government and the tribunals should try to keep the balance as fairly as possible between justice for the man with a conscience and justice also for the men who, if they felt that a great number of people were escaping by this means, would naturally object very strongly to performing their National Service when they knew that others were escaping. I do not say that conscientious objection is used as a great channel for escape, but we must be sure that it is not so used, not only for the sake of the general National Service man but for the sake of the conscientious objectors themselves.
I listened with great interest, as did the Committee, to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), who served in the Navy, as I did. He tried to define these difficult matters of where courage begins and cowardice ends, or the other way 697 round. We have heard the hon. Member for Abertillery rightly talk about the incidence of conversion between the ages of 18 and 25. That is why I feel that we cannot legislate on this. We cannot lay down rules or give instructions to tribunals. All we can do is watch the position and satisfy ourselves that all concerned are trying to do what they think is fair and right.
That, I think, is the responsibility of the Government in this matter. I am very glad that this debate has been held. I think that this matter should be looked at from time to time. That is one of the essential safeguards to ensure that the system is working properly. I undertake that my right hon. and learned Friend and myself will look most carefully at the points raised in the debate. We will make inquiries, at any time if any hon. Member will bring to our notice any case about which he feels seriously disturbed.
But, having done that, and having satisfied ourselves that the tribunals in general are trying to do this thankless job in a sincere and honest way, as I think that they are in general, I think we should express our thanks to them. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough said that, on the whole, he thought that they were doing their job in a sincere and honest way, and so did many other hon. Members. If we subject them to this general check, then we should allow them to do their job. I think we should perhaps express our thanks for what is a very difficult job.
I do not think that any country looks after matters of conscience as carefully as we do. It is an essential part of one of our freedoms; something we must fight to preserve. I am not satisfied that we are not preserving it. It is right that the Committee should look at the matter as it has done today and that the Government should say what I have said—that we will keep a careful eye on it and see that a proper balance is kept between what is just and what preserves conscience. I think that we can be satisfied that, on the whole, this most difficult and important matter is being properly looked after at present.
That a sum not exceeding £39,697,000 be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sums necessary to defray the charges for the follow-
ing services connected with the Position of Conscientious Objectors for the year ending on 31st March, 1954, namely:
|Civil Estimates, 1953–54, Ministry of Defence Estimates, 1953–54, Navy Estimates, 1953–54, Army Estimates, 1953–54, and Air Estimates, 1953–54|
|Class V, Vote 8, Ministry of Labour and National Service||12,775 000|
|Ministry of Defence||13,012,000|
|Navy Estimates, Vote 12, Admiralty Office||6,910,000|
|Army Estimates, Vote 3, War Office||3,020,000|
|Air Estimates. Vote 3, Air Ministry||3,980,000|
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, forthwith to put severally the Questions:
§ That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Estimates, including Revised and Supplementary Estimates, and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Revenue Departments Estimates, and in the Navy, the Army, and the Air Estimates, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates.