§ LORD CHARNWOOD rose to move to resolve—
- 1. That the extension in any way of the indulgence now shown to conscientious objectors would be unjustifiable unless accompanied by their deportation from this country for so long as they refuse to obey its laws.
- 2. That no person who has applied for exemption (conditional or total) from military service on the ground of conscientious objection ought thereafter to be permitted to teach in any school or college supported or assisted by public funds.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Motion arises out of the debate which took place in your Lordships' House a fortnight ago, and my chief object in moving is to invite your Lordships to say plainly that the indulgence now given to men who will not fight for their country goes as far as either policy or justice allows. The country is making great and terrible demands upon the sense of duty of a large number of its citizens, and in every class of the community that demand is being answered with a cheerful self-devotion which does not need any words of mine to praise. And since the words "torture" and "tragedy" have been used in these discussions rather freely in regard to the conscientious objectors, I need hardly remind your Lordships that the lot of the unconscientious multitude who serve their country is by no means exempt from real torture and real tragedy. That being so, surely whatever indulgence is afforded to the minority who will not fight ought to be based, not on mere good nature, but on some plain principle that commends itself to the conscience of ordinary men.
§ To that I would add this fact. The absolutist objectors, or rather that small select band upon whom our attention was concentrated a fortnight ago, are men of superior education. That was made very clear, though, rather to my surprise, it was put forward as if it were a merit on their part rather than a responsibility. One of them, we are told, is an Eton or Balliol man; another is a prominent 24 figure in recent literature; and so forth. In short, they are all men of a kind who can easily be made interesting to cultivated society, and it is relevant to mention that one of the most prominent has influential relatives in the House of Lords. All this, I think, is a reason for caution in any favour that is extended to them. By the way, I would like very respectfully but very emphatically to make my protest against a suggestion which I heard in the recent debate, that where you have to deal with educated offenders there should be for them some special form of punishment "appropriate to educated people." Against any idea of that kind I humbly venture to protest.
§ I am now, my Lords, speaking of, and I will confine my remarks for a while to, the select few of these absolutists, the men whom we are specially told we must not accuse of cowardice. I am speaking of the very best of them. I do not think that from good nature or generosity we should be ready to refine away the fact that the thing which these men are doing is horribly wrong. There may be in individual cases psychological peculiarities which should attract some measure of compassion and regret to an individual offender. That, I think, is the highest at which you can really put the plea for them. If what they are doing is not wrong, nothing is wrong. Surely it is utterly fallacious when people talk in these cases of setting up the law of conscience against the mere law of the State. It is no mere municipal ordinance of the State that these men disobey. The Statute under which they are punished is the appeal of their country in its dire need to the fundamental principle that a man should help his neighbour in trouble, and it is the most venerable of all laws which these callous young men are trampling under foot. I do not think one can get away from that a bit by calling them conscientious. Conscientious, it seems to me, means that a man is acting consistently in obedience to some principle; but there are, as we all know, principles of conduct which obtain vogue now and then, by a strange sort of contagion—principles of conduct which no community can tolerate and into which no sane and honest man can or does argue himself. I would take the most recent examples of this. We have upon the part of the Germans a conscientious breach of treaty, a conscientious violation of every usage of war and of every dictate of humanity—conscientioul 25 outrages unspeakable. These really are, in the sense in which the word is so freely used, conscientious. They are done in many cases by men who were previously respectable and in many instances devout, and they are done because serious and grave persons have elaborated a theory that they ought to be done.
§ Returning from the conscientious Germans who do these things to the conscientious Englishmen who stand by, I cannot profess to be able to fathom their theories quite; but, speaking plainly, the religious men among them do something of this kind they appeal to Scriptures which to all the world beside have stood as the great teaching of self-devotion in the service of your neighbour, and they wrest them by some manner of means into a pretext for standing by in security while your neighbour Buffers foul wrong. "If thine enemy would smite thee on the cheek, turn to him thy neighbour's cheek, and if he would take away thy cloak, let him have thy neighbour's cloak instead." That is not an honest doctrine or an honest principle, and whatever sympathy one may feel, of a kind, looking at the respectable antecedents and mild character of some of these young men, really one cannot get away from it that here are a set of people who, by some crooked process of thought, have succeeded in deadening in their own minds every generous impulse of youth.
§ It does not, of course, follow in the least that in ordinary circumstances the Criminal Law would be the best treatment to apply to them. Not at all, under ordinary circumstances. But two things, I think, do clearly follow. Having regard to what these people are doing and the principle on which they seem to be reasoning, bearing in mind that there are on the verge of this thing a number of young men growing up who may be caught, by this disgusting contagion and may join the ranks of these objectors and pass the remainder of their lives in shame, I submit that the kind of language, not only excusing but almost adulatory, which several noble Lords permitted themselves to use towards these men in the recent debate, is really rather cruel to the young men who may be tempted to follow their example.
§ Another thing also follows. When you have a country fighting for its life, and that country has decided that no man who, from ancient associations and the traditions of his family, or what not, has an incurable 26 aversion to the occupation of a soldier shall be required to fight, but shall be allowed to serve his country in some other way; when the country and the Government have taken enormous pains to suggest and provide other ways of service which shall be thoroughly acceptable to such a man, and in doing so have knowingly and willingly taken the risk, that large number of wholly unworthy people—mere shirkers and cowards—will also take advantage of their action, a country in those circumstances fighting for its life has already gone a very long way indeed along the path of toleration.
§ I want to refer a little more in detail to the debate of a fortnight ago. Without intending the very smallest personal imputation, I frankly say that I approach any proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, with an exceedingly critical mind. The noble Lord himself asked in the recent debate whether any man would call him a pro-German. Of course, that is strictly an unmeaning term—
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
I beg pardon for my condensation of the noble Lord's remarks, but if he looks at Hansard he will see that he was talking of Sir Walter Raleigh—
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
And he pointed out what a dreadful thing it was that some people should have called Sir Walter Raleigh a pro-Spaniard. He went on to express—I dare say in a joke—the hope that nobody would apply any similar or parallel term of reprobation to himself. That, I think, is an accurate statement of what the noble Lord said. In that sense it was taken by the noble Earl below me (Lord Derby), who, of course, as we all should, disclaimed any reflection upon the noble Lord which could possibly be personally offensive to him. I disclaim it now. Nevertheless, the noble Lord (Lord Parmoor) does in a sense stand markedly apart from the bulk of his countrymen. From the commencement of the war he has been very prominent in the debates in this House, and, with every appearance of a set preference, he has devoted himself to suggestions and criticisms tending to 27 restrict or restrain in some degree the action of the Executive Government in carrying on the war; and while on that side his activities have been exceedingly marked, I cannot recall that his interest has ever been attracted by measures for the more effectual prosecution of the war, or even for the sustentation or comfort of those who are fighting it for us. When the noble Lord exhibits so pronounced—and, I should have said, for an Englishman so lamentable a bias of that description, I respectfully say that the Government and the House and the public ought to approach any advice coming from him in a spirit of rather cautious criticism.
There was a remark of the noble Lord (Lord Parmoor) with which I entirely agreed and sympathised. He laid it down that punishment should, so far as possible, avoid injury to health. I am not quoting his exact words. Every man will agree. We claim that not only for conscientious objectors but, as I am sure he would claim it, for every broken swindler or ruffian in our gaols. I agree with the noble Lord further. Undoubtedly it is an unfortunate thing in these cases that a number of recurrent short sentences should have been passed. It would have been far more satisfactory, and milder treatment, that these men should have undergone longer terms of imprisonment rather than suffered recurrent short terms. One must remember that these short sentences were passed originally with the idea of clemency. I understand that there is ample Executive power to mitigate to the full hardship and danger to health which necessarily result from these recurrent sentences. I am perfectly confident that that administrative power will be used by the Government. I am certain that it is being used in that sense. However that may be, the noble Lord, in what seemed to me to be brilliant advocacy for his client which yet left out of account, from the beginning to the end, the needs of the country and the difficulties of the Government, harrowed our feelings—I frankly admit he harrowed my feelings—by the description of the sufferings in individual cases calculated to convey a picture of very great hardship and cruelty taking place in our gaols.
I want to refer to one or two of the instances which the noble Lord (Lord Parmoor) took. I will not refer to them all. In the first place it would be distasteful to examine in any detail precisely what 28 the noble Lord said in regard to his own relative. He used expressions and said things which I confess moved me at the time, but when one looks at them, what do they rest upon? We know that these men are under the supervision of the prison doctors, who, as a class, are competent men, and that they are carefully watched over by an administration which we know to be competent and to be in the last degree humane. And when we are given to understand that the particular gentleman in question is having his health grievously shattered, we must consider upon what the noble Lord's statements rest. They rest upon the evidence of two suffering ladies, who cannot fail to be deeply anxious and agitated. But the statements stand in entire or substantial contradiction, as I understand, to those of the prison authorities and their competent medical advisers, who say they are moderately satisfied as to the condition of this young man's health. So much as to that particular case, which I confess moved me most at the time.
Now, as to the remainder of Lord Parmoor's cases. He told us one man died in gaol. That is very sad. But people die at all ages outside gaol, and the real question is, How does the rate of mortality among these prisoners compare with the rate of mortality among men of similar age in ordinary civil life? I do not think the suggestion that this man died from the hardships of prison treatment, or a similar suggestion that another man had gone mad, is worthy of serious attention on the part of your Lordships' House. Lastly, I would like to refer to one other case which was brought before us as an instance of the horror of the whole thing. It is the case of the gentleman who was at Peterhouse, Cambridge, a well-known name in recent literature, and of whom the noble Lord ended up with the sad announcement that "the latest news we hear of him is that he is now in hospital in Winchester Prison." I have a little further information from a visiting justice of Winchester Prison in regard to this young man. I think it is worth your Lordships' consideration whether any case of grievous hardship has been made out. The noble Lord said, quite frankly, that this man had refused to do work. I cannot conceive what principle of conscience or of dignity may be involved, when one is in prison, in refusing to conform with the prison regulations. I can understand a man conscientiously going to prison—I think some of us might do it 29 ourselves—but I cannot understand a man declining to conform to the prison discipline while he is there. At the outset he refused to do his prison task, and therefore he has been, on five different occasions, sentenced to periods of two or three days in the cells on a bread and water diet, and on every one of these occasions before undergoing this special punishment it has been certified by the prison doctor that his health would allow it. After a month in gaol this man was removed by the doctor into hospital. That is the whole story, and it seems to be, I gather, one of the principal foundations for the suggestion of horror and torture which the noble Lord made.
Then again, the noble Lord (Lord Parmoor) appealed to our sympathies with an account of the virtues and high character previously exhibited by one or more of these gentlemen. I do not want to contest that or to say any harsh word about any individual. There may be many among these people we could like, if we knew them; but your Lordships must not think that these highly amiable cases are typical of the rank and file of the great mass of the conscientious objectors. Certainly they are not typical of the people who are having an easy option on Dartmoor. The rank and file of the conscientious objectors, as they are described to me, are of a hard, violent, bitter, and intractable type which cannot enlist any sympathy at all. However, I do not want to discuss further how numerous or how eminent may be the exceptions to this class, and for this very simple reason—that it is the very men to whom sympathy has been most directed who take up a position which it is most plainly impossible for any Government with any backbone at all to meet. My Lords, I will return to that in a moment. I wish to go on to the main point—[A NOBLE LORD: Hear, hear.]—as I understand it, of the noble Lord's speech.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but for a considerable time now he has been answering a speech which was made by Lord Parmoor about a fortnight or three weeks ago. This House is, as we know, very lax with regard to order; but really the speech of the noble Lord is continuing to be an answer to a speech made in a debate in this House some weeks ago.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
The pith and gist of the Resolution on the Paper is an answer to the trend and tenor of the noble Lord's (Lord Parmoor's) speech a fortnight ago and to the demands which were brought forward on behalf of the conscientious objectors. Therefore I respectfully submit that the noble Earl's criticism of my speech is not absolutely justified. At the same time I will avoid any further reference, as far as I can, to anything which was actually said in the previous debate. My proposition, however, is in the first place that no further indulgence can be given to these men. I am bound to some extent to consider what the indulgence is that is claimed for these men, and upon what grounds it is claimed. The suggestion put forward was that a certain number of men who are proved to be conscientious are by some means or other to be let loose upon the community and to be exempted from any punishment.
I wish very briefly to mention what is the ground taken up by these men. Your Lordships appreciate perfectly that all these men have the option of not fighting, and that they have all sorts of scope given to them to do service for their country other than fighting, but their objection goes so far, as it seems to me, that they will not even aid the country in getting its food from the fields or from the fisheries. Not only will they not take part in the warlike activities of the country, but they refuse to assist even in the peaceful industry of food-getting. Is that an attitude which it is in any way possible to conciliate or to condone? I believe that the ground which they take differs very much in individual cases, but I think I shall be quite fair in taking two cases of opposite extremes as typical. Here is one man who says—I will not fight, and I will not, help a wounded man. That wounded man might be cured if I helped him to get to hospital. Then he would be able to tight again.That gentleman may, perhaps, be logical, but most certainly he is a brute; and there I shall leave him.
I now take the extreme opposite type represented by Mr. Hobhouse, who has been mentioned before in your Lordships' House. I understand his attitude to be—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—not merely that he will not fight, but that he will in no way recognise the Military Service Acts. I believe he has taken this position from the commencement. I inferred this from the statement that was made about him, but 31 I now understand definitely that he refuses to go before any Tribunal or Court to claim exemption. That is a perfectly dignified attitude, I dare say, but in what respect does it differ from the attitude of an armed rebel against the country? A rebel or a person guilty of treason may be highly conscientious, highly honourable, and very frequently is, but no one will suggest for a moment that because he is conscientious his conduct ought not to be repressed by law with all the severity possible. Here is a man who, without armed rebellion, takes a very effective course, intended no doubt to be followed by others, which, if extensively followed, must defeat the measures taken by the country for its defence when fighting for its life. That seems to me precisely on all fours with the action of an armed rebel, and I submit that, while his friends might reasonably and creditably demand for such a man the honourable death by Court-Martial sentence which you might make an armed rebel suffer, it is a wholly monstrous and extravagant proposition to demand that a man who effectively opposes himself to the efforts of the country for its own salvation in this trouble shall be allowed to be at large in the community during the war. That is what my Resolution is mainly intended to express. We can go no step further in meeting these gentlemen, and the more plainly we say so the better in all respects.
But I have added to my Resolution two things. The one is the suggestion—and it is honestly meant as a suggestion to the friends of the conscientious objectors—that in some cases it might be possible for the Government to meet the real wishes of the persons interested. There is a test which can be applied to a man who says that he is doing something conscientiously, and that test is whether he is willing to apply his principle when it tells against himself. It does seem to me that the claim which a conscientious objector can honourably and consistently put forward is to be either an exile from or an outlaw in the country which he will not defend or serve in any way. It is, of course, impracticable that we should have outlaws in our midst, but is it altogether impracticable that the very few who are honest and courageous enough to accept an alternative of that kind should be allowed banishment or deportation to some non-belligerent country which will accept them? I seriously think that it is possible that in some special cases such 32 a way out could be found. A great many of these men, I understand, are preachers. Could not work be found for some of them and accepted by them in mission fields far away in Africa? That seems to be the sort of suggestion which might conceivably appeal to men of this kind, supposing that they are really and thoroughly in earnest, and one which, if their friends would work it out for them in detail, the Government might be willing to facilitate. But it is for the friends and the champions of these misguided men to devise in detail such a way out as may be possible. I make that suggestion without knowing whether the Government think it practicable, and I make it in good faith. If, however, there is any kind of deviation to be made from the working of the present system, it is the business of the friends of these men to devise it for them.
I have further put down a proposition that none of these men—and here I am not speaking of absolutists only, but of every conscientious objector whatsoever—ought to be allowed to teach in our public schools. I need say very little about that. I do not put it forward in any spirit of vindictiveness or as a penalty upon these men, but as a measure of justice and of protection due to the children of the country. We should certainly insist upon that ourselves in the case of the schools to which we send our sons.
I have a good deal of correspondence respecting the men who are kept at Prince town and various other places, not as prisoners but as men supposed to be engaged on work of national importance. I believe they have been very unsatisfactory in their conduct, as also have been the discipline and control exercised over them. In connection with this, there has indeed been a very considerable scandal. But I do not want to enter upon that topic because it is bringing in a matter of prejudice, and I do not wish to mix these obvious outcasts with the really conscientious and brave men that there may be among the objectors. I would only remind the Government that there is a very strong public opinion on that side of the matter, and I would further point out that, if the door is opened wider, here is this very unclean crowd waiting behind to press in.
I must apologise for having detained your Lordships at some length The noble Earl (Lord Camperdown) called me to order just now, but I do not think that Lord Parmoor himself would have done so 33 because Lord Parmoor will recollect that I did rise in the recent debate on this matter, and he raised some question then as to the propriety of my speaking upon it, and I immediately gave way.
I would only say this in conclusion. I confess quite amply the only prejudice of which I am conscious in this matter. I happen to be the chairman of a Local Tribunal and when I am in the country it is continually my business to try to settle real questions of conscience which I do very heartily respect. The sort of case which I have in mind is that of a working lad, the youngest of a family of soldiers, himself apparently rather keen to fight, but who has no sisters, and who feels bound to look after his aged and crippled parents, and thinks that his main and paramount duty is at home performing menial offices night and morning for these crippled parents. Well, a lad like that has to go; many others whose difficulties are equally real and honourable have, by the decisions of our Tribunals, to go. And I confess that I have this deep feeling that, before I acquiesce by vote or by voice or even by silence in the extension of any further indulgence to these cold-blooded men of conscience, I should want to have a reason which I could explain clearly and without shame to that sort of lad and to his mates, or to his bereaved and afflicted parents. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve—
- 1. That the extension in any way of the indulgence now shown to conscientious objectors would be unjustifiable unless accompanied by their deportation from this country for so long as they refuse to obey its laws.
- 2. That no person who has applied for exemption (conditional or total) from military service on the ground of conscientious objection ought thereafter to be permitted to teach in any school or college supported or assisted by public funds.—(Lord Charnwood.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has stated his case with his accustomed clearness and with considerable wealth of detail. A large part of his speech was devoted to a close examination of the speech on the former occasion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, involving, as my noble friend Lord Camperdown pointed out, 34 some departure from the usual practice of the House, in which it is more usual to reply to speeches at the time when they are made.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am quite aware that the noble Lord considered himself debarred from taking that course on the occasion of the last debate, and he therefore thought it within his right to pursue the subject in detail to-day.
As regards the terms of the noble Lord's Motion, I confess that, so far as I have any knowledge of the subject, the term "indulgence" is not exactly appropriate as applied to the treatment which the conscientious objectors receive. Nor, in my opinion, ought they to receive indulgence. My views are perfectly well known to anybody who has cared to hear them because I have often stated them in this House, and I am certainly not one of those who desire to see conscientious objectors treated with anything which could be called indulgence. Nor do I believe that they are or ever will be, whether they are in prison or out of it, Nobody, I think, is likely to become a conscientious objector on the ground of the, kindly treatment which he is likely to receive, either from the State or from his personal acquaintance. His position is that of a blackleg, as they are called by the trade unions, and, as we all know, the way of a blackleg is ordinarily hard. On former occasions we have been told that some blacklegs are far too hardly treated by those who dislike their standing out against the sense of the community to which they belong. Well, these conscientious objectors are blacklegs from the national union, and they are not, as I venture to think, receiving anything that could be called indulgence now; nor are they likely to receive it when they are once more free to mix with their fellow-citizens. They are likely to remain thoroughly unpopular for the remainder of their lives. I do not think, therefore, that the noble Lord need be afraid that they are likely to receive too much kindness at the hands of those who have suffered, either themselves or vicariously, during the course of the war.
I do not desire to discuss the merits of the rather unusual remedy of deportation which has been proposed by the noble Lord. 35 It is not a practice known in any sense to our British law affecting British subjects, and it is very difficult to suppose that those who would desire it are not actuated by the simple desire to make things as disagreeable as possible for these people by depriving them of their profession or trade, or whatever it may be, and compelling them to start life in some other part of the world. And, further, if you come to reflect whether a particular citizen is useful to his country or merely neglecting ail the higher interests of the nation to which he belongs, deportation might be freely extended to a considerable number of other persons besides conscientious objectors. There is something absurd in the reflection that a man may be a deserter from the Army, not on conscientious grounds but because be dislikes the Army, receive a term of imprisonment for desertion, and, after he has served that term of imprisonment, becomes a highly respected citizen, in the possession of a vote, among other things—that is a question which we shall have to consider later on in connection with another Bill—and with full rights of citizenship. It is very difficult not to suppose that all these ideas which one sees promulgated in many quarters of treatment of the special, and, I might almost say the refined hardships which it is desired to deal out to conscientious objectors, do not come from that sort of access of severity, amounting sometimes almost to ferocity, which from time to time affects people, even those of academic training and of the most mild address in ordinary circumstances of life.
But what I really rose to allude to especially was the second part of the noble Lord's Resolution, because that concerns me in my capacity as Chairman of the London County Council. Lord Charnwood's proposition is that nobody who has applied for exemption in connection with a conscientious objection should at any time be allowed to teach in any school supported or aided by public funds; and the noble Lord made it clear to us that his desire is not only to exclude those amazing people who are spoken of as absolutists, but all persons whatever who have applied for exemption on conscientious grounds. On that I say at once that, from my point of view, the noble Lord's Resolution is far too widely drawn, and I do not think that he will find that any local authority in the country will agree to accept it in the terms in which it is couched. Speaking for the local education authority over which I 36 preside, we are quite determined to continue to judge each one of these cases on its distinct personal merits; and we consider this necessary because they differ so widely in every conceivable respect that it is impossible, without the most arrant injustice, to lay down a regular scale or rule of penalties in the terms in which the noble Lord desires to do. Certainly there are some cases in which teachers who hold these views and who refuse to do national work ought to be dismissed. That has been done in various cases. I have done it myself and it has been done, I have no doubt, by other local authorities in different parts of England—that is to say, in place of an objector of a certain kind being told that his place is being kept open for him, as is the case with public employees all over England, such a man is told that his services will be no longer required. In special cases that may be necessary. But in a number of cases it is by no means necessary, and I can assure the noble Lord that it certainly will not be done. It would be altogether impossible to dismiss from the service of local authorities some conscientious objectors—Quakers and others who have done such good work, some of it absolutely military work, as we know—cases in which men have risked their lives as freely as any soldier in the ranks. It is quite clear also that some attention has to be paid to the subject which has to be taught by the particular person involved. There are some people whose views, in the general opinion, might unfit them for teaching children or young people rules on the conduct of life, who, at the same time, could teach the multiplication table without fear of infecting the minds of the young in a deleterious way. That is, of course, a minor point. The major point is the distinction which has to be drawn between the character of different conscientious objections and the attitude taken up by the objector as regards national work.
The noble Lord must also remember that, when you come to inquiring into the opinions of teachers in this particular regard, there is a great number of teachers whose views may or may not unfit them to teach what we should consider a right citizenship to children, but whose views cannot be examined or dealt with under any such rule as this, because they are either persons past military age—in which case the question does not arise—or they 37 are women, more than half the number of the teachers in the whole of England, whose opinions, and the views which they may promulgate in their classes, cannot be inquired into by any such means as this. I sincerely hope, however, that all local authorities will take the view that there is a certain number of these people who ought not to be allowed to continue, in the teaching profession and who should be formally removed from it. But there is a considerable number of others, people who would come under the ban of the noble Lord according to the terms of his Motion, whom it would be practically impossible and, even if one could do it, unfair to dismiss From the service.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I was not present on the occasion of the debate the other night, and I read only a very imperfect report of it in a country paper; therefore I am not going to refer to that debate now, except to say that I am sorry to hear that anything that Lord Parmoor then said should have made Lord Charnwood—to whom I have listened with great interest—uneasy, and almost angry. With regard to Lord Charnwood's remedies, which the noble Lord did not treat at great length, I do not intend to say much. I must remark that on the noble Lord's own showing the notion of deporting the absolutists as preachers to other countries seems a curious remedy, because if you spread that sort of seed over various regions you will have a conscientiously objecting "hinterworld" which might sooner or later get the better of this part of the globe. No doubt, if you sent a conscientious objector out to a savage tribe the savages might possibly consider him as a great medicine man and give some attention to his theories; but I cannot imagine that the ordinary savage tribe engaged in warfare with its neighbours would be very much impressed with preaching as to the value of conscientious objection.
With regard to the other remedy, Lord Crewe, speaking as Chairman of the London County Council, put the matter in a way which, I think, would commend itself to the whole House. Lord Charnwood said he did not think that any of us would make use of a conscientious objector in the education of our boys. Personally, if I had a boy who was going for a Balliol Scholarship, and I knew a Greek scholar who lived within two miles of my house who was willing to coach my boy, I should 38 be glad to employ him for that purpose without any regard to questions of higher policy such as those raised by Lord Charnwood.
Speaking for myself, and I think for the whole of your Lordships, I find it very difficult to enter into the mind of the conscientious objector but I quite agree, as Lord Charnwood said I think he spoke of the dire need in which we are just now—that on the occasion of a great war one is inclined to think that, however conscientiously opinions may be held, a good many of these people should find themselves in a frame of mind to do things of which, in the words of the Prayer Book, their conscience is afraid. I also agree with the late Mr. Leslie Stephen in what I think applies to a great many of us here, for we are an elderly House, that every man of forty should have found some modus vivendi with his conscience, but unfortunately the absolutists do not take that view. It is all very well for Lord Charnwood to say that a Government with any backbone should know how to deal with them. I dare say they should. But people are not always able to do what they should, and I think the Government have a difficult task set before them by the recent and very unfortunate decision in another place with regard to the disfranchisement of the conscientious objector.
I hope Lord Charnwood will understand that I do not propose to say anything in the slightest degree laudatory of the conscientious objector, nor do I propose to go into the various grades into which he divided them—cultivated, gentle, simple, or the hard and intractable for whom nothing could be too bad. I take this upon very much larger lines. I should be very sorry to see that by any side-wind of this sort we should do anything to spoil this country's record, which gives every latitude to freedom of opinion. I think this is a side-wind attack upon all those great battles fought in the old days against the Test Act and various Acts which I will not inflict upon your Lordships to-day; and I say that for 800 or 1,000 people it is not worth while to sacrifice this country's record. If I went on speaking for twenty minutes I could not say more than that. We have a splendid inheritance which allows people to hold peculiar opinions, even if those opinions are unpopular; and, for the sake of a very small fraction of the people, who behave magnificently in other 39 directions, to go out of our way to destroy that record would be to my mind a great mistake.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I regret that I should have irritated Lord Charnwood, but I am sure that after his speech he will feel relieved of any bitterness, and that the matter can be left at that. I should like to say a word as to the remedies which he proposed. Deportation is in this country a form of punishment that is given only to those connected with what is called the white slave traffic, and it is a form of punishment applied, under the Aliens Act, to the lowest scoundrels among the aliens in the East End. That is the only form of deportation of which I know, Lord Charnwood says that nothing can be worse than the conscientious objector. Therefore he may class the conscientious objector as low as these persons. He would have to do that in order to make deportation a proper remedy. As regards the other matter, I need only say one word. After all, the man who has applied for exemption has done only what the Legislature told him he had a light to do. I do not myself—perhaps I am a law-abiding man—regard that as a great crime. He has applied for exemption, which the Legislature says he has a right to do. I agree entirely with what Lord Ribblesdale said. To upset the principles of just treatment, free thought, and free action on such a plea would be carrying us into a very wrong action indeed.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I did not take part in the debate which occurred in your Lordships' House about three weeks ago, and I shall not now refer to anything that happened during that debate; but I feel that it is desirable that something should be said different from what has been said so far, perhaps in some measure helping to make understood what so many noble Lords declare they have been unable to understand. Let me, in the first place, disown altogether the imputation which the noble Lord who opened this debate threw upon some of those who spoke on the last occasion of being influenced by personal motives of relationship with those who have suffered.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
I certainly understood that to be the in- 40 sinuation, and I am very glad to have it withdrawn. I repudiate altogether, for my own part, any such attitude of mind in reference to this question. It is true that I am connected with one of the sufferers. I do not dwell in the least upon the fact that he suffers. The only thing I would say in reference to him is this, that I am firmly convinced that he would repudiate altogether any idea that the treatment—call it indulgence, or what you like—afforded to him should not also be afforded to every one occupying the same position as himself. He has never complained of any hardship or suffering, and he does not complain. He accepts and submits; and the difficulty in liberating him, which those who are engaged in the control of our prisons find, is that he will not be liberated except upon conditions which apply to the liberation of others.
I will proceed to the substantial question. I am sorry it should have been reopened. I confess I think that the noble Lord who has brought it before us again this evening might have been content, if not with what happened on the last occasion, at least with what has happened since elsewhere, and which should give him an opportunity, if he wishes, of going back upon this question again at a later period of the session. I am sorry that he has reopened the question, but I do wish, if possible, to make plain to him what he says he has not understood. I remember the late Mr. Bright, in one of his great speeches in the country, quoting a couplet from a Puritan poet—There is on earth a yet auguster thing,Veiled though it be, than Parliament or King.That was, my Lords, the conscience of man; and they spoke of Parliament and King in the days of George Wither as you speak of the State now, as supreme in every action and thought of the citizen. I thank God there are citizens who refuse that kind of servitude, and insist that "There is on earth a yet auguster thing, Veiled though it be, than Parliament or King."
The difficulty I have in addressing the noble Lord is that of putting him upon a level on which he should understand what is meant by the supremacy of conscience; what is meant by a duty which should overcome your municipal or your national duty; what is meant when it was said elsewhere that we are citizens, it is true, but that we are Christians before and 41 above being citizens. I will say this, that we are human beings also above and beyond being citizens, and that those who do not appeal to the doctrine of Christ may yet appeal to some other sanctions which removes them altogether from the scope of the condemnation of the noble Lord.
The noble Lord may forgive me if I give him another illustration. I have referred to a Puritan poet of the seventeenth century. Let me refer to a poor countryman of my own from the West country, Cornwall, of the same century, whose history is told in the chronicles of Massachusetts. This man was a Quaker. He went to Massachusetts where he was found preaching the doctrines of the Society of Friends, and the municipal government of the time told him that that could not be tolerated. After some, argument he was deported from the State of Massachusetts. After a time he reappeared, preaching in Boston or Salem, I forget which. He was again remonstrated with and again removed. He came back a third time. The burden was upon him to speak to the inhabitants of that State and he could not relieve himself of that burden, and they hanged him—short, simple, and natural result of the attitude of mind of the man who cannot recognise that there is such a thing as conscience rising above your municipal law, which operated in that case in the sphere of religious teaching.
It is now universally acknowledged that the State has no right whatever, and that the individual is justified in resisting any pretence on the part of the State to assert a right, to control the religious opinion or the expression of religious opinion of the individual. That is an illustration which the noble Lord may, perhaps, see bears on the weakness of his remedy for one thing, as well as upon a sphere of action in which the State—with all its authority, be it Teutonic or Anglican in theory, and I hope we shall never have the Teutonic theory nourished and developed here—is universally acknowledged to have no control.
I pass to another illustration which the noble Lord has special means for apprehending. I meet him on ground which he himself has taken. I cannot understand his frame of mind in respect of the sphere 42 of action to which I am now going to refer. The noble Lord has recently written and published a Life of Abraham Lincoln. I have not yet had the opportunity of reading that Life, but I shall be curious—and will take an early opportunity of getting hold of it—to see what the noble Lord has to say with respect to the controversies about slavery and the abolitionists, and the other "narrow-minded," "easy living" people who exposed themselves to the contumely of their neighbours and to the punishment of the law because they would not tolerate or be party to or acquiesce in the consequences of slavery on the part of humankind. The noble Lord himself must have read the whole record. He must have heard of the Dred Scot decision and of Chief Justice Taney. This is the first occasion in connection with which we have the phrase, often on our lips now. "The higher law." He must have read that promulgated by Mr. Sewall, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, and he must be aware with what indignation the ordinary conscience of mankind, to which he refers, the ordinary conscience of the South and of a large proportion of the North, viewed this "terrible suggestion" of a higher law which could be above the law which tolerated and supported slavery. Is Mr. Sewall personally honoured in the noble Lord's memorials of Abraham Lincoln? Is Abraham Lincoln himself honoured? Has the noble Lord read of Henry Thoreau, another person to whom the policy of deportation might have been thought to be applicable? Henry Thoreau deported himself as far as he could. He could not get out of the society in which he lived, and I put it to noble Lords who think there is something in deporting a man who cannot agree with the principles of social duty which they affirm in opposition to him—I put it to them to consider what the position of the individual is who is a citizen of a State and lives in a State, and who feels bound to put before the members of that State a doctrine which he holds to be of supreme and absolute importance. My Lords, if ever there was a mad, sad, bad business of rebellion to the State it was that of John Brown. Yet, I suppose nobody can read the record of the struggle against slavery and the final abolition of slavery in the United States without coming across the record of John Brown, and without thinking in some way or other that it would have been better to have avoided a fate which the upholders 43 of the law of that day inflicted upon John Brown. We know—John Brown's body lies a moulderingin the grave,But his soul goes marching on.And the fight and the victory was in its way something more than an apology, a vindication of John Brown.
Before I sit down, let me clear myself from an imputation which you may, perhaps, attach to me. I am not one of those persons who are opposed to war, or recognise the possibility of doing away with war. I am not of the creed of the conscientious objector. I have as liberal a conscience as the noble Marquess who spoke just now. I can tolerate many things, bow down without any difficulty in the House of Rimmon, but I do at least apprehend the position of these martyrs—for they are, no less—first in one domain of thought, next in another, and next in a third, who go on extending the liberty of the human soul, leading up to a higher development and a higher civilisation of which we petty wanderers on the plain never think.
I wish noble Lords to understand that there is no pusillanimity, no desire to avoid trouble, no love of ease—these are not the motives which have stirred the best of these men. The motive which has stirred them is a belief that war, like slavery and religious persecution, is an evil that can be and must be got rid of if we are to redeem humanity from the frightful curse which we all acknowledge now besets it, and they will have nothing to do—punish them if you like; they will accept your punishment—with the organisation that maintains, upholds, and enforces war. They do not shirk war in pursuit of ease; they do not shirk war because it may bring death or peril upon them. They are as ready to meet death as any one; they are as courageous—I am speaking of the sincere men—as the men in the trenches. I do not pretend to measure noble Lords may, perhaps—the sincerity of individuals and proclaim that nine out of ten are insincere. You have acknowledged and admitted, by the exceptions you have made, what has been impressed upon every one who has followed the course of history—that there are men of sincerity holding these opinions. They have been recognised, civilly, for some 400 years in different countries, even if they were not recognised civilly in the early days of the Christian religion under the Roman Empire. About that there is 44 controversy. But in Europe, in America, in the Swiss and the Lowland provinces, in France, in England, and in Russia the immunity of conscience has again and again been recognised; and all that I wish to impress upon your Lordships—I ask you to excuse me if I have detained you too long—is the essential necessity of trying to apprehend, if you wish to deal with this problem intelligently and successfully, what is the frame of mind, the constitutional belief, the aim of action of these men whom the noble Lord has characterised in words which I hope he will live to think are ill-chosen.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to deal, not with the abstract question of liberty of conscience, but with one or two practical points which were brought to my attention when I was Minister for Education. The teachers of this country regard the liberty which they have secured for themselves as all-important. I am quite sure I am voicing the views of the National Union of Teachers when I say that the 200,000 teachers whom they represent in England and Wales are opposed to any interference by the State with their liberty of thought, either political or religious; and if the State is going to attempt to prevent individuals from qualifying and becoming certificated elementary schoolmasters, they are going to come up against the organised teachers of this country. I think the Government ought to be aware of that position. There is another point to which the attention of the Government ought to be directed; and it is this. Under our educational system the duty of appointing teachers and of looking into their qualifications has passed out of the hands of the State and has been transferred to the local education authorities. I think it would be a retrogressive act to endeavour to thwart the discretion of the local education authorities in regard to the selection of school teachers.
I would like to direct the attention of the Government also to the fact that the greatest defect in our educational system is that we have not enough qualified teachers, men or women, and that we are doing nothing to induce them to come into the profession. If teachers are going to be debarred owing to their political or religious views from entering the profession by the action of the State, I think it would be a very retrogressive step. May I take one or two in- 45 stances. I take the case of the Quaker schools, where they have an engineering side, and have obtained grants out of public funds. These schoolmasters have obtained exemption, and are teaching to the satisfaction of the parents who send their children to the schools. Although they themselves think it would be wrong for them to enter into the fighting line and take lives, at the same time they believe they are doing work of real national importance by being permitted to remain in their schools. If they were not doing that they would be prepared to sacrifice their lives in ambulance work, or any other work for which they may be conditionally exempted by the Tribunals. It would be a preposterous idea that these schoolmasters should be dismissed, which would be the case under the terms of the noble Lord's Motion, and I hope that this step will not be supported by the Government. I am quite sure in the days when Mr. W. E. Forster introduced the Education Act he held views which would have debarred, under the terms of the noble Lord's Motion, any teachers remaining in the teaching profession; and I think that this statement alone is an indication that it would be turning the hands of the clock back if we were to deprive teachers of that liberty of thought which they have won for themselves. I am not justifying their attitude in declining to serve their country in the way which the majority think they ought to serve, but I do feel that we should be wise in not passing this Resolution in the terms in which it has been placed on the Paper. I am quite sure that if Resolutions of this kind are going to be passed you will create sympathisers with these people who will then have a grievance against the State for depriving them of rights to which they felt themselves entitled when the Act was passed in 1915.
Holding these views, I believe that the best thing you can do is not to advertise the conscientious objectors and not to puff them. If the Press would only leave them alone they would get very little satisfaction out of their conscientious objection. They have suffered a good deal already. I know many whom I regard as brave individuals, and they have to meet such an amount of obloquy, ridicule, scorn, and indignation from all their relations and friends as to make their lives practically unbearable. They hold these views, but my belief is that if you leave them alone they are far more likely to come to your 46 views than they are if you bully them and send them back to repeated terms of imprisonment.
Let me give you one illustration. A boy, whom I know, at the beginning of the war went out to France to take part in ambulance work, and he was at the first Battle of Ypres under shot and shell for many weeks. He was then directed to do work in a hospital. That hospital was filled with French malades suffering from typhoid, and his daily occupation for some months in that institution was to remove the excreta of the patients. Subsequently he went out with an ambulance to Italy. He has been at the fighting Front in Gorizia for several months, and has been working for his country according to his own lights in saving lives as best he could and risking his own life in doing so. He has been left alone; nobody has interfered with his conscience. After the break through the other day at Gorizia, he returned with his ambulance car, got leave to come home, and since then he has joined the Service, and is now qualifying as a flying man. That is an illustration of what may occur if you leave an individual alone. There is no lack of patriotism in the country, but you will not create patriots by carrying proposals like these. You will probably obtain far more recruits to your view if you leave these men alone than you will by penalising them in the way that the noble Lord suggests.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
My Lords, perhaps I may now explain to the House the view which His Majesty's Government take in regard to the two Resolutions that are on the Paper in the name of my noble friend. I must say, speaking for myself, that there was a good deal in the speech of Lord Charnwood with which I did not find myself in antagonism. In his first Resolution he says that "the extension in any way of the indulgence now shown to conscientious objectors would be unjustifiable unless accompanied by their deportation from this country for so long as they refuse to obey its laws." If the "indulgence" to which the noble Lord refers means that it is to be exercised in the direction desired by those who say that the arrangements should be so altered as to meet the demand of persons employed by the Brace Committee that they should be given complete exemption, I cannot say that there is any intention of that sort in the mind of the Government; while in regard to deporta- 47 tion, as was pointed out by the noble and learned Lord below the gangway, there is no power to deport British subjects. Moreover, when it is suggested that this country or that country would be willing to receive them, I myself am not so sure where such a country could be found, and even if it could be found, there are practical difficulties, such as shipping, that make it, if I may say so with respect, hardly a practicable suggestion. The noble Lord referred to the health of some of these conscientious objectors, and I may inform him that this is a matter to which the Secretary of State for the Home Department gives the most earnest attention, and also that he receives very frequent reports in regard to the health of those who are said to be ailing. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will not press his first Resolution.
As to Resolution No. 2, that has been referred to by two noble Lords of considerable experience in these matters—one the noble Marquess opposite, and the other my noble friend who was once Minister for Education. Perhaps in regard to this Resolution, I may point out to my noble friend that it is a very important matter because of the principle which is involved in it. My noble friend is no doubt aware, though he may have overlooked it, that under the present system the teachers in State-aided schools are appointed by the local education authority, and the teachers in State-aided Universities by the Councils of the Universities, and the Board at Whitehall has not hitherto interfered with the discretion of the Universities or of the local authorities in the matter of the appointment or the dimissal of their teachers. That system has worked very well. The decision taken by the President of the Board was announced in his Estimate speech in another place—that it was not intended to convert the teachers of national schools into civil servants. That announcement met with general approval. It is understood that the Tribunals generally have refused to recognise the work of teaching the young as work of national importance for the purpose of the Military Service Act of 1916 in the case of conscientious objectors exempted from military service. The matter is therefore in the hands of the local authorities. I may endorse what was said by Lord Gainford that, taking the teachers as a whole, there is no body of men who have shown themselves more ready to assist their country or have shown more patriot- 48 ism; and where there have been those who have objected to actual fighting, in some cases they have taken a place in the front line ambulances, and in other cases as volunteers for mine-sweeping. On behalf of the President of the Board of Education, I have to say that he regards as of the greatest importance the maintenance of the autonomy of the schools and Universities. I shall therefore ask my noble friend not to press his second Resolution either.
My noble friend mentioned Princetown, which is one of the centres, and he referred to discipline lightly maintained, to a considerable amount of unnecessary freedom that existed, and he made one or two other criticisms. Although I do not include my noble friend in this, there has been a good deal of uninformed rumour spread about in regard to Princetown. Princetown is governed by rules of the Brace Committee, which have been laid on the Table of your Lordships' House. These rules are strictly enforced, and serious or repeated breaches would be punished by return to prison or to the Army. The fact is that the standard both of the conduct and of the industry is maintained at a good level. Lord Charnwood, I think, referred to the fact that on one or two occasions these men had refused to do work for agriculture. Any refusal to do work would, under the rules, have been visited by the punishment of being returned to prison or to the Army. The Agricultural Committees were also circularised in regard to work by these men. On that occasion, however the circulars did not meet with any very successful response, but I understand now that the Devonshire War Agricultural Committee has been addressed again in this regard. I hope that, if my noble friend does not see his way to withdraw his Resolutions, your Lordships will support His Majesty's Government in objecting to them.
§ LORD LAMBOURNE
My Lords, as a new arrival in your Lordships' House, I naturally feel some doubt about addressing you on this occasion, but I hope that no speech made here, such as that delivered by Lord Courtney, will ever induce your Lordships to look with leniency upon, or to treat with indulgence, this form of objection which is called "conscientious." My own opinion is that the individuals in question have already been treated with far too great leniency. Now what is the conscientious objector? He is a man who 49 says that his conscience objects to his assisting his country in time of danger or aiding his fellow-creatures in time of need. Lord Courtney produced for our edification a diagnosis of a man's conscience. He rightly maintained that there are occasions when a man's conscience should be superior; but, after all, because I am able to torture and lead my conscience to follow me after the desires that I know to be in my heart, I am not surely to take that conscience as a guide for what I should do, and leave the State and my fellow-creatures unprotected. My own firm belief is that out of a hundred so-called conscientious objectors—and I expressly exclude the Quaker sect—fifty are cowards, thirty are cranks, and the remaining twenty may be honest men. I believe that the indulgence shown to these men has not only encouraged them to what I believe to be unpatriotic conduct, but has encouraged others to follow their example.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I do not know whether I might, by the indulgence of the House, reply to the appeal that has been made to me. I merely wish to say, as I have been asked to withdraw this Motion, that I recognise that the second Resolution relating to the schoolmasters is drawn in far too wide terms, and I have no hesitation in withdrawing it. In regard to the other, I realise that there is very little chance of our being able to depart from our present system. The suggestion which I made of possible deportation has been much objected to. I merely suggested that the option of an honourable exile from this country might be offered to persons who are now in prison, and I sincerely imagined that it was an option which people who are so far hostile to their own country might in some cases have been glad to take. But I am assured that this is not so, and that it is impracticable. I do not know why the Government should have objected to the first two lines of my first Resolution, but as they give me a distinct assurance that there is no intention of extending the 50 scope of the indulgence or exemption now given to conscientious objectors, I accept that assurance, and I have not the slightest objection to withdrawing my Motion.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (THE EARL OF DERBY)
My Lords, the noble Lord said, at the end of his remarks, that he accepts from the Government a distinct pledge that there will be no consideration given to these men.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I do not understand what he means by "no further indulgence." All I know is that the noble Earl who leads the House gave a distinct promise the other day that he would consider, together with the Home Secretary and myself, the conditions in which these men who are suffering in health live, with a view to seeing in those circumstances whether, in the interests of humanity and for the sake of their health, any relaxation of the rules should take place. I wish it to be clearly understood that this pledge will be carried out, and an announcement will be made to the House at the earliest possible moment if any relaxation can be made.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.