Clause 2. — (Enrolment notices.)

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 2nd April 1941.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I beg to move, in page 3, line 4, to leave out paragraph (a).

The Clause, as it stands, provides that where a person fails to comply with an enrolment notice he is liable on conviction, on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. I regard this penalty as far too severe. I have endeavoured to compare the penalty imposed for this offence with the penalties imposed for similar offences under the principal Act. Clause 16 of the principal Act provides that where a person is convicted of forgery for the purpose of evading military service, or gives false information for the purpose of evading service, he is liable lo imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or a fine not exceeding —50. That is a very much smaller penalty than that provided for failing to comply with an enrolment notice, which, in my submission, is a less serious offence. It occurs to me that those who have drafted this Measure have not been consistent right through, and I see that the right hon. Gentleman partly agrees with me, in that he has a later Amendment on the Order Paper which is designed to reduce the penalty. However, I do not think he is reducing it sufficiently, and it still does not meet my point, because the penalties for various offences in this Measure and in the principal Act must be consistent, and there must not be more drastic and serious penalties imposed for lesser offences. If the Amendment was accepted, it would mean that the punishment on summary conviction would be reduced from 12 months to three months, and if the second Amendment standing on the Order Paper in my name was also accepted, the fine also would be reduced. It only makes this Measure consistent with the principal Act, and I hope my right hon. Friend will see his way to accepting it, because I am satisfied that in so doing he would improve this Bill.

Photo of Sir Frederick Messer Sir Frederick Messer , Tottenham South

I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee, but I consider this is a point of some substance. Some of the people who may come under this penalty may in no other circumstances be found guilty of an indictable offence. It appears to me that this offence is hardly the sort of thing which should be indictable. I think it is a type of case which ought to be referred to a court of summary jurisdiction.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

We associate ourselves with the Amendment which has been moved, the purpose of which is to make the penalty much more moderate. I hope the Minister will accept it, because it is a shocking thing to give a man two years' imprisonment for failing to appear at a particular office and hand in his name at a particular time.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

We have considered this matter, and, as the Committee will have noted, I have put down two Amendments on the Order Paper. You cannot reconcile this Measure with the principal Act, because in the latter case the man concerned goes into the Army. For volunteers who leave there is a penalty of three months or a fine of £100. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is talking of a different offence. I am talking of offences as they are under the Ministry of Home Security. We have to keep in mind the kind of scale which now operates in the Civil Defence services, but I cannot harmonise everything. I tried to make it six months and 12 months, leaving the penalties as originally proposed. I cannot go any further.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I am rather amazed at the Minister's attitude in regard to Amendments on this matter. You are penalising men to the extent of probably six months. You may find judges, seeing that there is a maximum of 12 months, giving six months' imprisonment. It will depend on what they have had for breakfast and the state of their stomachs. I could point to a large number of offences which are being committed and reported every day in the Press, and their effect on the community may be tremendous, but they are being penalised by a very small fine indeed. For example, an offence that is very often committed is carrying matches into a factory where there may be gunpowder. It might endanger hundreds of lives. I find one man being fined £5 after a second offence and another £ 10 or 28 days' imprisonment. Here the Minister proposes to impose penalties of that kind on conscientious objectors. The Minister and many Members, and the country, may think them misguided in refusing to accept the decision of the Act, but if they are to suffer penalties, they should be of short duration in terms of imprisonment and the fine as low as is consistent with civilised opinion and as the country is prepared to tolerate. I am sure that if the voice and the feelings of the country were taken, there is no enlightened opinion, I scarcely believe there is any extreme "diehard" opinion which would support what the Minister is proposing.

When we are continually declaiming against the attitude of the German Government and the dictators of the world, we should be showing a little more humanity in our own minds and hearts towards men who are likely to be penalised under this Bill. I ask the Minister seriously whether he is not prepared to make some decent gesture with regard to the penalties. The Committee stage on a Measure becomes a farce if we are not to get any form of concession to minority opinion. The Minister of Labour has stood out strongly to-day for his decision regarding the calling-up of people for the factories and has told Tory Members and "diehards" that more will be got by kindness and consideration than by repression. Once a man crosses the threshold of prison under this Bill he will not only be a lost soul so far as the country is concerned, but he will be embittered. I advise the Minister to remember that a large number of the people who are conscientious objectors and will be subject to these penalties are pupils of his own, of the Minister of Home Security and of members of the Labour movement who have taught them that war is immoral and that they should not take part in it. I would urge the Minister to do what many Tory Ministers have done in the past and grant some concessions in regard to penalties.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I had an Amendment down to this Clause, and the Minister was good enough to accept it, for which I give him thanks. When dealing with this problem the Minister rather led us to believe that some of these cases will come to him in the end, but he will know that they will not come before him at all but before the benches of magistrates. A friend of mine who has stood at this Box hundreds of times as a Member and at the Box opposite as a Minister, was during the last war an absolute conscientious obector.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I would point out that this Clause does not apply only to conscientious objectors, but to all persons who fail to enrol.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

To what other type of person does it apply? There may be the careless person, but does the right hon. Gentleman think that he should get two years for carelessness? Apart from the conscientious objector, who is there?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

On a later Amendment, I shall be able to show the hon. Member that there are others.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

The Minister will know that the vast majority of those who will not register under this scheme will be conscientious objectors to being forced into Civil Defence. I have stood at this Box many times to oppose all manner of savage sentences under the law. They do no good and only embitter the people upon whom they fall. When I was interrupted I was referring to the late Morgan Jones. Consequent upon a decision of a bench of magistrates his teacher's certificate was taken from him; they sent him to two years' imprisonment. When he came out of gaol he could not get a job except as a labourer. When he came out of gaol he stood for the County Council against the justice of the peace who had sent him to prison, and he defeated him, and ultimately he came to Parliament to represent the constituency from which he had been sent to gaol. I feel, therefore, I am entitled to say something about these penalties. Benches of magistrates differ. One bench will be fair-minded and impose a penalty of a month —the maximum is now to be 12 months — but other benches in rural districts may impose the full 12 months. We have to think not only of what happens to these men when you put them under lock and key but of society after the war. When these fellows come out of gaol and lake part in the public life of our land, I do not want to find any bitterness in their hearts. It was for that reason that I put down my Amendment, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman once again for accepting 12 months instead of two years.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I find myself in rather surprising company upon these Amendments, I recognise that there must be a penalty for people who do not obey the enrolment notice, but I would appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister not to make it an Indictable offence, with a penalty of two years' imprisonment as the maximum. If he will agree to that on paragraph (a) I will withdraw the Amendment on (b). That will mean that the man will be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding 12 months, and I should think that will give my right hon. Friend all the control he wants. Why make it indictable? That is my case against (a).

Photo of Sir Frederick Messer Sir Frederick Messer , Tottenham South

May we have the view of the Solicitor-General upon this important point? Some of us are magistrates, and regard that' position with some degree of importance. We feel that in some instances we should be compelled to regard what these men are doing as comparable with committing a severe felony. Fancy sending a man for trial to the assizes or sessions, where he can get two years' imprisonment, for a thing like this. Incidently, the power to impose a sentence of 12 months at a court of summary jurisdiction is an advance. At the moment, save in some very special cases, we cannot go beyond a sentence of six months. I think a case has been made out for not making this an indictable offence.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

Is the hon. Member opposite wise in asking that this should not be made an indictable offence? One of his complaints has been that a bench of magistrates once did something wrong, but if this is not an indictable offence, the accused person cannot be taken before a jury. He might want to go before a jury, and that is a consideration to be borne in mind.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I hope the Minister is going to reply because —

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I was going to reply, and I was going to say that I could not change my mind on this point. I could have come to the Committee prepared to make a compromise on the six months, and have been a very generous man, but I do not like doing work in that way. I saw this Amendment, and I re-examined it. I met my hon. Friend's point, and I have tried to harmonise these penalties, as far as I can, with others in the Regulations at the present moment by reducing the penalty—leaving the monetary fine but making six months' imprisonment as a maximum, on summary conviction, 12 months on indictment. I think, taking the two proposals together, they impose much lighter penalties than are in existence for other kinds of offences. Supposing I agreed to the Amendment, and subsequently a man left a job, what would happen? He would be subject to a penalty of 12 months' imprisonment or a fine of £100. I am asked that the man who does not work at all should be liable only to a fine of £50 or a maximum of six months' imprisonment.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I am talking about a case of summary conviction. Under the present law when a man leaves his job there is a penalty of £100 and a maximum of 12 months' imprisonment. I have gone a long way down from the present law to accept the position taken up by some hon. Members opposite, and I hope the Committee will give me credit for my generosity.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

Can we have a promise from the Minister that he will reconsider this matter between now and the Report stage?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

Really, I have gone as far as I can.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made:

In page 3, line 5, leave out "two years, and insert" twelve months."

In line 9, leave out "twelve, "and insert" six."—Mr. Bevin.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill"

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

I did not wish to vote against the Amendments of the Minister, since they reduced the penalties, but I am still profoundly dissatisfied. I propose, on the ground that the penalties are too high, even as amended now, to vote

Division No. 12.]AYES.
Adams, Captain S. V. T. (Leeds W.)Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock)Headlam, Lt.-Col. Sir C. M.Richards, R.
Albery, Sir IrvingHenderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)Rickards, G. W.
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)Higgs, W. F.Robertson, D. (Streatham)
Assheton, R.Holdsworth, H.Robertson, Rt. Hn. Sir M. A. (M'ham)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P.Horabin, T, L.Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Beaumont, Hubert (Batley)Howitt, Dr. A. B.Salmon, Sir I.
Beechman, N. A.Hurd, Sir P. A.Salt, E. W.
Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central)Hughes, MoelwynSanderson, Sir F. B.
Benson, G.Jeffreys, Gen. Sir R. D.Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)
Bevan, A.Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)Seely, Sir H. M.
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E.Johnston, Rt. Hn. T. (Stl'g & C'km'n)Selley, H. R.
Blair, Sir R.Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.Shakespeare, G. H.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)
Bossom, A. C.King-Hall, Commander, VV. S. R.Shute, Col. Sir J. J.
Boulton, W. W.Lamb, Sir J. Q.Silkin, L.
Bower, Comdr. R. T.Lathan. G.Simmonds, O. E.
Boyce, H. LeslieLawson, J. J.Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A.
Brooke, H.Leach, W.Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W. D.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)Levy, T.Smith, E. (Stoke)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)Lindsay, K. M.Smith, T. (Normanton)
Browne, Captain A. C. (Belfast W.)Little, Dr. J. (Down)Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)
Butcher, H. W.Loftus, P. C.Southby, Comdr. Sir A. R. J.
Cadogan, Major Sir E.Lucas, Major Sir J. M.Stewart, W. Joseph (H'gton-le-Spring)
Cape, T.Mabane, W.Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Charleton, H. C.MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Chorlton, A. E. L.Macdonald, G. (Ince)Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Colman, N. C. D.McEntee, V. La T.Summers, G. S.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.Tate, Mavis C.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.McKie, J. H.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Critchley, A.McKinlay, A. S.Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)Tinker, J. J.
Crowder, J. F. E.Magnay, T.Tomlinson, G.
Daggar, G.Maitland, Sir A.Touche, G. C.
Davies, Clement (Montgomery)Makins, Brig.-Gen. Sir E.Train, Sir J.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)Mander, G. le M.Walkden, E. (Doncaster).
Davison, Sir W. H.Mathers, G.Walker, J.
Douglas, F. C. R.Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Edmondson, Major Sir J.Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)Milner, Major J.Wayland, Sir W. A
Elliston, Captain G. S.Molson, A. H. E.Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Emrys-Evans, P. V.Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Fildes, Sir H.Morris-Jones, Sir HenryWeston, W. Garfield
Foot, D. M.Mort, D. L.Westwood, J.
Fox, Sir G. W. G.Munro, P.Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Garro Jones, G. M.Paling, W.Wilkinson, Ellen
Gibson, R. (Greenock)Parker, J.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Gledhill, G.Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Glyn, Sir R. G. C.Pickthorn, K. W. M.Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Granville, E. L.Plugge, Capt. L. F.Windsor, W.
Green, W. H. (Deptford)Power, Sir J. C.Woolley, W. E.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.Price, M. P.Wootton-Davies, J. H.
Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)Procter, Major H. A.Wragg, H.
Grimston, R. V.Radford, E. A.Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.
Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)Rankin, Sir R.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hannah, I. C. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)Major Dugdale and Mr. Whiteley
Hannon, Sir P. J. H.Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Gallacher, W.TELLERS FOR THE NOES— Mr. Maxton arid Mr. McGovern.