§ Order for Committee read.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clauses 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he wished to put a question to the Chairman on a point of Order. He had given Notice of his intention to move the insertion of two or three new clauses at the end of Clause 3, 734 and he wished to know at what stage of the Bill he was to move them?
§ Clause 4 (Correction of misprints in 44 and 45 Vict. c. 58).
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN)
moved, in page 3, after line 31, to insert—(5.) In section one hundred and forty-five of 'The Army Act, 1881,' the words 'when any order or decree' shall be substituted for the words 'when any order, decree' in the second sub-section.He explained that the Amendment had been rendered necessary by the addition of the word "or" after "order."
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. SEXTON
rose to move the insertion of a new clause to provide that there should be paid to every soldier engaged in special service relating to the recovery of rents, ejectments, and evictions in Ireland, a daily sum, by way of extra allowance, over and above his regular daily pay, equal to the daily extra sum allowed for similar service to each member of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
I must point out to the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) that this clause and the clause which follows, relating to the rates to be paid to carmen, are not in Order, because they propose to increase the sums considered to be necessary by the Crown in the Estimates for the Army, and, therefore, they cannot be put. The third clause of the hon. Member is in. Order.
§ MR. HEALY
, on the point of Order, wished to ask if the Chairman was aware that the late Chairman of Committees (Mr. Cecil Raikes) allowed the hon. Member for Galway to move an Amendment of a similar character? Was the ruling which the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had just given, given with a knowledge of the course taken by his Predecessor?
I have not, at the moment, been able to read the ruling to which the hon. Member refers; but I have a distinct recollection of it. The Rule then laid down, as I recollect, rendered it possible to move such an Amendment in a Bill which had not any force 735 in law, but which required an annual Act of Parliament to bring it into force. But the present Bill is of a different character, because it becomes an Act which is in itself law; and, therefore, the ruling to which the hon. Member (Mr. Healy) has referred does not apply.
§ MR. SEXTON
remarked, that the gross sum involved was not a very large one, and the expense was one which was under the control of the War Office.
Whether the sum be large or small, as it is larger than is considered by the responsible Minister of the Crown to be necessary for the Public Service, it would be an increase; and, being an increase, it would be quite out of Order for a private Member to move it.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, the second of the proposed clauses raised a question of very considerable importance—namely, whether very gross cruelty was not practised in the way in which the cars were used by the police and the military? It might be that there were outrages and cases of cruelty to animals in certain parts of Ireland; but he was prepared to contend that much greater cruelty was practised by persons in the pay of the Government in putting the law into force.
§ MR. SEXTON
observed that, if it would be in Order, he should be glad to move the latter part of the second of the proposed new clauses, which merely related to the manner in which the cars were to be used. He was personally acquainted with the fact that a great deal of cruelty was practised towards horses in Ireland, and that the property of the car owners was very much damaged. The only object of the latter part of the clause was to impose regulations upon the police and military in regard to the use of private property in Ireland, so as to prevent, in future, not only cruelty to horses, hut damage to property. He should be glad to know whether it was competent for him to move the latter part of the clause?
§ MR. SEXTON
said he would move, then, after Clause 3, to insert the following Clause:—No car shall be used for the conveyance of more than four soldiers, and shall not he driven upon any one day, unleas a change of horses be The Chairman 736 provided, more than eight miles out and eight miles back, and shall not be driven at a pace exceeding six miles per hour.At present, in some parts of Ireland, it was no uncommon circumstance to find a car crowded with six or seven soldiers, who were driven great distances often by inexperienced persons and sometimes by the soldiers themselves. The consequence was that the horses were frequently rendered useless to their owners for any further work for a considerable time. The horses were driven at a headlong speed and were often covered with foam. In the present excited state of Ireland, when the direction of affairs was presided over by persons at a distance, he considered that it was desirable for Parliament to interfere, in order that there might not be added to all the other elements of confusion, excitement, and ill-feeling, cruelty to animals, and the wanton injury and destruction of private property by persons in a subordinate position. He simply asked that when a magistrate or other officer took a car for the purpose of serving evictions, he should see that the horse and car were used in a fair and proper way. Of course, the regulations which were submitted in the clause would be subject to modification at the discretion of the Committee. He simply threw them out as the basis of a rational settlement; and if the proposal were accepted, he felt sure that it would be received with thankfulness by the Irish people. He was also satisfied, from the courtesy which was always displayed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, that the proposition would receive fair consideration.
No car shall be used for the conveyance of more than four soldiers, and shall not be driven upon any one day, unless a change of horses be provided, more than eight miles out and eight miles back, and shall not be driven at a pace exceeding six miles per hour,"—(Mr. Sexton,)
—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. CHILDERS
I do not think that it is either expedient or neceseary that I should enter at length into a discussion of the question; but I think I can give the hon. Gentleman very good reasons why I object to the clause, when 737 I say that, as a matter of fact, the cars which have been employed in Ireland have practically been obtained by the ordinary process, and not under the compulsory clauses of the Act. In one case, where complaint arose, the circumstances wore considered by myself on an appeal at the War Office, and that which was deemed to be just was done. I think, therefore, that the clause, as proposed to be altered, would really only apply to the employment of cars in Ireland in a manner in which they have never yet been employed, and would, therefore, be entirely nugatory. I would suggest that it would be much better to leave the matter as it is now, so that any complaint as to the unfair use of cars may be dealt with by the authorities at the War Office. They have only hitherto been employed when necessary. What I promised the other day, on the second reading, was that I would look into the matter carefully before next year, and I added that if any complaints were made in the meanwhile I would consider them, and they would be dealt with on principles of justice. I cannot, therefore, give my consent to the introduction into the present Bill of a clause which would not affect the general practise, but would only deal with cases which have not hitherto occurred, and which are not likely to occur. For these reasons I hope the hon. Member will not press the clause.
§ MR. HEALY
thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) was placed in a position of considerable disadvantage in having had his clause curtailed. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to be unaware of the fact that a considerable number of seizures of cars had been made by the military authorities under the compulsory clauses of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman said there had been no seizure by soldiers.
§ MR. CHILDERS
What I said was that no complaints had arisen except in one case. In the particular districts in which it has been necessary to employ cars the Government have not taken advantage of the powers of the Act, and we have been very careful to see that no injustice was done.
§ MR. HEALY
said, that that being so did not do away with the opposition of the Irish Members, nor in the slightest degree alter their position. Their cou- 738 tention was that when ears were seized under the compulsory clauses of the Act there should be due compensation awarded; that care should be taken that no unfair use was made of the cars; that the horses should not be over driven, and that the cars should not be crowded. He had read in the papers the other day an account of a case in which the use of cars having been refused, the soldiers and police seized them, and drove them at such a rate that the knees of the horses were cut and broken. In every instance the car used was improperly crowded. He was not in a position to state that the facts reported in the papers were absolutely true; but he thought some inquiry ought to be made into them. What he desired now to obtain from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was an assurance, in the event of injury being done to the horses, or where there was a complaint of overloading and damage to the cars, he would at once cause an investigation to be made, and see that the person who made the complaint was properly compensated. He presumed that, as far as the clause moved by his hon. Friend was concerned, he could scarcely expect the last part of it would be inserted, seeing that the first portion had been ruled by the Chairman to be informal. All he desired was that an assurance should be given by the right hon. Gentleman that whenever a compulsory seizure of cars was made, and it could be proved that the horses had been driven unfairly and the property damaged, the owners of the cars should have a claim for compensation.
I have no hesitation in giving an assurance to that effect, inasmuch as that is the principle upon which the War Office has already acted.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, it seemed to him that the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman was not altogether satisfactory, as it only went to a certain length. The right hon. Gentleman promised that compensation would be made in all cases in which it could be shown that the horses or cars had been unfairly treated. In such cases, of course, the owners would be entitled to be paid for the damage done; but the right hon. Gentleman made no provision whatever for the unfortunate horses. It was, unfortunately, the custom in Ireland, when 739 evictions were to be carried out, to drive the horses over heavy roads, at an unreasonable pace and for an unreasonable distance. In fact, the amount of cruelty perpetrated in this way was very much in excess of anything that had taken place in the cases which had been cited in the House as instances of cruelty to animals.
§ MR. CHILDERS
Of course, I cannot undertake to compensate horses; but I will see that justice is done to owners, where exceptional arrangements have to be made.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, his object in moving the clause was to obtain an assurance that the owners would be compensated for any injury inflicted upon them. He had every confidence, after the statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman, that when a well-founded complaint was made to him the owners would receive due compensation; and he would therefore, with the leave of the Committee, withdraw the clause.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause withdrawn.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he had now to move a clause relating to the liability of a soldier to maintain his wife and children. He proposed in page 3, after Clause 5, to insert the following Clause:—
§ (Liability of soldiers to maintain wife and children.)
§ "Whereas it is desirable that the liability of a soldier or Marine to maintain his wife and children should be real and better defined, and it is expedient to provide for the same: Be it therefore enacted, as follows:—
§ "(1.) As though the word 'shall' stood in the place of 'may' in sub-section 2, Clause 6:
§ "(2) As though all the words after 'commanding officer of such soldier,' in sub-section 3, were omitted."
§ The object of the clause was to interpret the 145th section of the Act of 1881 in such a manner as to compel a soldier to maintain his wife and children, whether such children were born in wedlock or otherwise. The existing law was, in his (Mr. Sexton's) opinion, seriously defective. Several years had passed since a clause was inserted in the Mutiny Act, declaring that every soldier belonging to the Regular Forces was liable to contribute to the maintenance of his wife 740 and children to the same extent as a civilian. But although several years had passed since that provision, declaring that the soldier should be made liable for the first of his natural obligations, was inserted, it was nevertheless the fact that the provision had been rendered altogether nugatory by the stipulations with which it was surrounded. It had been stated, that in the first parochial year following the insertion of this provision in the Mutiny Act, the total amount paid by the Secretary of State for War to the wives and children of soldiers, and towards the maintenance of children whose mothers were not married, amounted to £1,500. He had since learned, however, that this statement was altogether inaccurate; and he was informed by a leading member of an association which took an interest in the question that the total amount paid by the Secretary of State in the first parochial year, instead of being £1,500, was only £58. He thought that fact was amply sufficient in itself to show that the provision which had been inserted in the Act, which professed to place a soldier on the same level as a civilian, had totally failed. He would explain in a few words what the present position of a soldier was. If a man deserted his wife and children and enlisted into Her Majesty's Army, what steps had the wife to take in order to obtain proper support for herself and family. In the first place, she was obliged to go to the Union and obtain relief; and then she was required to procure a summons to be served on her husband's commanding officer, wherever he might happen to be. It was a shameful fact that the organization of the British Army was conducted in such a way that before a man became liable to these obligations care was taken to remove him from the town in which he was likely to become liable, before the woman could take any steps to assert her rights. But that was not all. The wife had, in the first instance, to go to the workhouse; in the second place, to apply to the Board of Guardians for a summons against the commanding officer; in the third, she was required to serve the summons at the place where the soldier was quartered; and, fourthly, she was required to deposit with the summons a sum of money sufficient to take the soldier from the place where he was quartered to the 741 place where the case was to be heard, and then to take him back again. In the case of a mother who was not the wife, the same regulations were enforced. She had to apply for a summons to be served on the commanding officer of the soldier wherever he happened to be quartered, and to deposit a sum of money sufficient to bring him to the place of hearing and take him back again. The Committee would see that such a requirement amounted, in many cases, to a total abnegation of justice. He was informed that the effect of the regulation was to make it necessary for a poor woman who had any claim upon a soldier to deposit a sum of money that was never less than £2, and which often exceeded that sum. A poor woman was often unable to procure such a sum; and the enforcement of the regulation, therefore, amounted to a total denial of justice. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War dropped an observation on the second reading of the Bill which seemed to have some force—namely, that if the mere issue of a summons was all that was required to bring a soldier from his quarters, there would be cases of collusion with a view to enabling the soldier to desert. Of course, that danger would exist; but he (Mr. Sexton) thought the resources of the law would be sufficient to guard against it. But even if it did occur, was it to be said that because in one case out of 100 there might be collusion between a soldier and a woman in order to enable the soldier to desert from Her Majesty's Service, that in the 99 other cases defenceless women having a legal claim upon the soldier should be deprived of the means of asserting their claims to the maintenance of their children and themselves? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would not attempt to maintain that contention. It had also been pointed out that the soldier, at the time the summons was served, might be with his regiment ordered for foreign service. He (Mr. Sexton) did not think the mere fact that the man was ordered for foreign service should amount to a plenary indulgence. Surely the Service of the Queen had not come to such a pass that every individual soldier under orders for foreign service must be protected against his civil liabilities. If any class of Her Majesty's 742 subjects deserved commiseration at the hands of the Committee it was these unfortunate women, whether they were wives or otherwise, who were abandoned by the men who were morally bound to protect and maintain them. He should be surprised if the Government, desiring and affecting as they did to be considered a moral Government, should take upon themselves to say that Her Majesty's Army was to be a refuge for every abandoned man who desired to desert those who had a natural claim upon him. He did not address this complaint in particular to right hon. Gentlemen now in Office. The matter was not new to the House of Commons, and there were more than one hon. and right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Treasury Bench who had, on a previous occasion, voted for an Amendment identical with that which he was about to submit to the Committee. It was, therefore, no new affair. Among those who had already supported a similar Amendment were the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Charles W. Dilke), the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson), the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Fawcett), the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. E. Forster), the hon. and learned Solicitor General for England (Sir Farrer Herschell), the noble Lord the Member for Haverford west (Lord Kensington), and the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council (Mr. Mundella). All of those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen had already voted for the Amendment, and he trusted that he should have their support on the present occasion. When, however, a woman had gone through all the various preliminary stages which he had described—after she had gone into the workhouse, obtained a summons, and deposited a sum of money necessary to bring the soldier to the place where the case was to be heard, and take him back again, she could then obtain in her favour a reduction of the soldier's pay. But even then the discretion of the Secretary of State for War was interposed, and she was likely to be deprived of the small sum awarded to her. The Act of Parliament said that the Secretary of State "may," at his discretion and good pleasure, order g, portion of the pay not exceeding 6d. per day in the case of a ser- 743 geant or non-commissioned officer above the rant of an ordinary soldier, and of 3d. a day in the case of a private, to be appropriated in liquidation of the woman's claim, "in such manner as the Secretary of State may think fit." It was unnecessary to point out to the Committee that the sum authorized to be deducted from the pay of the soldier was in all conscience small enough without the interposition of any discretionary power on the part of the Secretary of State. In the case of non-commissioned officers and sergeants it was only 6d., and of a private 3d. He (Mr. Sexton) presumed that these sums were fixed upon, in the first instance, because they were sums which could be deducted from the pay of these persons without disorganizing the internal economy of the regiment to which they belonged or interfering with the efficiency of the Army. Nobody would be prepared to say that when a soldier had left his wife and children destitute, or a mother and child, although the mother might not happen to be his wife—nobody would say that in such a case the payment of 6d. a-day by a noncommissioned officer and 3d. by a private was too much for the purpose of maintaining them. What he (Mr. Sexton) claimed was this—that when the woman had laboriously put the law into operation, and obtained a decree from a regularly constituted tribunal for this miserable sum, she should not be further embarrassed and handicapped by the exercise of the discretionary power of the Secretary of State. His first Amendment—for there were really two contained in the clause he was about to submit—was to abolish the discretionary powers of the Secretary of State; to render the provisions of the Act honest instead of illusory, and to do away with a discretion which, if really exercised at all, could only be interposed between a soldier and his natural obligations and liabilities. The second provision contained in the clause was to abolish the regulations which obliged a mother, on obtaining a summons, to deposit a sum of money necessary to defray the cost of bringing the soldier to the place where the case was to be heard and taking him back again. He based the clause upon the broad ground that a soldier, as well as a civilian, if he rendered himself liable to the law for the maintenance of a woman and child, who were among 744 the most helpless classes known to the law, the public funds, if necessary, should be used in conveying the soldier to the place where he was called upon to answer for his default. It was intolerable, discreditable, and disgraceful to a country like this that military discipline should be used to shelter a man from claims against him which the law would sternly require him to answer if he were a civilian. He took his ground upon the language of the Statute, which said that a soldier should be equally liable with a civilian; but he contended that, as the Act now stood, he was not equally liable. He asked that this delusive discretionary power should be removed. A regiment could not lose much by the temporary loss of the services of such a man. If it were necessary to alter the Regulations of the War Office, and to make a rule that when a soldier upon whom such a claim was made was ordered upon foreign service, he should not, as at present, obtain practical immunity by going abroad, but should be detained to answer the charge, and should follow his regiment by another steamer, or be drafted, if necessary, into another regiment. At any rate, let justice be done to the woman and her children wherever they might be scattered. This was not an Irish question; Irishmen formed only a comparatively small portion of the British Army, and he did not believe that of that infinitesimally small proportion any large number ever deserted their wives and children. It was essentially an English question, and he now moved the insertion of the new clause, leaving it for the English Members and the Government to say how it was to be dealt with.
§ New Clause (Mr. Sexton) brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN)
said, the clause proposed, as the hon. Member (Mr. Sexton) had pointed out, really involved two different Amendments. The first related to the exercise of a discretion by the Secretary of State. The hon. Member had complained of the very small amount of money paid over by the Secretary of State under this 745 section of the Act of Parliament; but he seemed to forget that that was owing to the peculiar conditions under which alone the liability could arise. The cases of unrecognized marriages were very rare indeed, and for this reason. When a man desired to enlist in the Army and was attested, he was asked, in his attestation paper, if he was a married or a single man; and if he replied that he was married he was not accepted. If he stated that he was single, when in reality he was married, he rendered himself liable to be proceeded against under the 33rd section of the Army Act; and he might be sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. The result was that exceedingly few married men entered the Service; and as the bulk of the men who entered the Army were unmarried men, no large claim in respect of legitimate children could arise. The provision in relation to the wives and children of soldiers was introduced into the Act by Lord Cardwell in 1871, after the most careful consideration; and Lord Cardwell addressed himself to the subject with the express desire of arranging matters in such a way as to meet the exigencies of the Service, and, at the same time, to do justice to the soldiers' families, and those who might have a claim upon them. The first section of the Army Act which the hon. Member sought to amend was the 145th, which gave a discretionary power to the Secretary of State. He (Mr. Osborne Morgan) did not see how they were to do away with the exercise of this discretionary power altogether. He had never yet heard of any complaint having been made against the exercise of the power; and that being so, to do away with all discretion whatever, and to tie up the bands of the Secretary of State and make it imperative on him to make an order in every case, would be most objectionable. There could not be the slightest doubt that wherever an order ought to be made it would be made. So much with regard to the first part of the hon. Member's Amendment. In regard to the second question raised by the clause, the bon. Member must surely be aware that, for a purpose like this, there existed a vast difference between a soldier and a civilian. In the case of a civilian, the father and mother of the child probably resided in the same parish, and 746 there would be nothing to take the father away. But in the case of a soldier, he might be ordered with his regiment to the furthest part of the Kingdom, or perhaps out of the country altogether. If, therefore, some woman took out a summons for the making of an affiliation order upon him, he would be obliged to go all the way at his own expense, or at the expense of the public, when it might not be certain that the charge was well founded. Anyone who had any experience of magisterial inquiries knew that these cases were constantly trumped up; and it was necessary to require the woman to deposit what might be looked upon as caution money as a proof of the bona fides of her claim. In common justice to the soldier and for the requirements of the Service, it was absolutely necessary that some such provision as this should be maintained with the view of preventing unfounded charges from being recklessly made. For these reasons he should certainly oppose the Amendment.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, it seemed to him that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General altogether failed to meet the case established by his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). The case of his hon. Friend was a most rational one. The law, as it stood at present, amounted to this—all that a woman could get from a private soldier was 3d. a-day, which amounted to a little over £4 10s. a-year, or 6d. a-day from a sergeant or noncommissioned officer, which amounted to a little more than £9 a-year. The amount was so exceedingly small that a person must be in a very poor position in life to make it worth while to obtain it; and it was absurd to suppose that she would have sufficient means at her command to enable her to deposit the sum of money which the law now required her to deposit. Therefore, unless the Government were prepared to contend that the woman should have no redress at all, it was most desirable that the law should be altered. He would suggest that, instead of a sum of money being required to be lodged by the woman upon instituting proceedings, it should be competent for the preliminary Court—namely, the magistrate—to receive evidence from the soldier in the shape of an affidavit, which the Court might consider for what it was worth. 747 If the Court were of opinion that an order should be made, and the soldier still disputed the claim and thought he could establish a stronger case, then let him attend the place of hearing at his own expense. It certainly appeared to him that if a wife made a claim for the maintenance and support of herself and her children, she should not be required, as a preliminary step, to deposit a large sum of money, especially when it was taken into consideration that, after all, it was competent for the Secretary of State to refuse his assent to the judgment of the magistrate. Certainly, if the money were actually deposited by the woman, it should be in the power of the magistrate who heard the case to deliver a final judgment without the Secretary of State having any discretionary voice in the matter. At present the woman was placed in a most unfortunate position. She had not only to make out her case and establish her claim under circumstances of extreme hardship and difficulty, but she was liable to have any judgment in her favour revised by a tribunal before which she could not be heard. It appeared to him, as the matter now stood, that the provision made on behalf of the woman was entirely illusory, and that she was altogether without the power of obtaining redress. There was nothing whatever, as far as he was able to see, to justify the opposition which was given to the clause by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he was quite aware that on former occasions, when this question had been brought before the House, there was a feeling on that side in the direction of the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). But it did seem to him, upon the present occasion, that the form in which the proposal was now made was such that it was quite impossible for them to accept it. There were two distinct propositions contained in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman. The first appeared to him to be a reasonable one. He thought the substitution of the word "shall" for "may," in the 145th section of the Army Act, would be altogether an improvement. He differed from his right hon. and learned Friend the Judge Advocate General (Mr. Osborne Morgan) that the effect of the alteration of this word 748 would be to leave the Secretary of State without discretion in the matter. The Secretary of State would still have a wide discretion, and the Committee must bear in mind that the action of the Secretary of State did not take place until after the matter had been before a judicial tribunal. Before the matter could come under the notice of the Secretary of State at all there must be some order or decree under the provisions of the Common Law for the payment by a soldier or a non-commissioned officer belonging to the Regular Forces for the maintenance of his wife or child, or of any bastard child, of which he was the father. When the case was decided according to the legal requirements the order was sent to the Secretary of State, who had power to direct it to be enforced, and to make a reduction from the pay of the soldier for the support of his wife and legitimate or illegitimate children. Then the Act went on to say that the Secretary of State may—Order a portion of the soldier's pay, not exceeding a certain amount, to be appropriated for this purpose.It therefore seemed to him that a discretionary power would still remain with the Secretary of State in this way. The word "shall" in the place of "may" would only require the Secretary of State to make such an order as, in his judgment, would be necessary to meet the necessities of the case; and, therefore, there was clearly a discretionary power to settle the amount within the very small sum fixed by the Act. Supposing, in the very improbable case that the circumstances were such as to induce the Secretary of State to make a small order, it was clearly within his power, under the clause, to make a very small order indeed. But, while that appeared to be perfectly reasonable, he understood that the Secretary of State undertook that this particular point should be reconsidered before the introduction of the next Continuation Bill. He had no doubt, in his own mind, that practically the Secretary of State did, under such circumstances, make an order, and that, therefore, the matter might safely be left to the Secretary of State for the present year after the discussion which had taken place, with the understanding that he would consider the propriety of making a change next Session. With regard to the other part of the Amend- 749 ment, he must say that, in its present form, it was quite impossible for the Committee to assent to it. If they were to allow a soldier stationed at a considerable distance, on an ex parte statement, to be brought up at his own cost to defend himself against such a claim, everyone would see that, under such circumstances, it would be altogether unfair to place the soldier altogether at the mercy of any woman who chose to prefer a charge against him. He believed there would be very great difficulty in altering the law in that respect; and, although he had every desire to meet the wishes of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), if the hon. Member pressed that part of the Amendment to a division he should feel bound to vote against him. At the same time he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would carry out the intention which had been announced, and that he would deal with the matter on a future occasion.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, it had been his duty in former times, on several occasions, when this question was raised by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), whom he saw opposite, to consider it; and he hoped, therefore, that he might be allowed to say a few words. In regard to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), he hardly agreed with the hon. Member that there was any material difference between the proposition of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) and that which was formerly made by the hon. Member for Leicester. Before the new Army Act was passed, the law was administered under the Mutiny Act and under the Articles of War; and if hon. Members would read the provisions contained in those Acts together, they would find that they did not differ very materially from the present proposal. It was quite clear, therefore, that his hon. Friend the Member for Burnley was only anxious to find some salve to apply to his conscience for the vote he was about to give; and as it was not the first time that such a thing had been done, he presumed that his hon. Friend would follow his ordinary practice. He wished, however, to point out to the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General (Mr. 750 Osborne Morgan had omitted to state one of the most material objections to the present proposal, and one which he (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) had always brought forward in times past. In his opinion it was the most material objection of all—namely, that if any provision of this kind became law, it would interfere with the well-recognized principle that the Crown had absolute power and command over the Army and over the soldiers' pay. No doubt, when the money was voted, the Crown could not apply it to its own use, or to any other purpose than paying the soldier; and as the soldier, who had the primary and original claim to that pay, could not proceed against the Crown or against the Secretary of State in regard to it, so it would be utterly impossible, and contrary to all reason, that secondary claims, such as that of a wife or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, should be allowed to prevail. Moreover, he could himself assure the hon. Member that when he held the position now occupied by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he took a great deal of trouble, by personal inquiry at the War Office, to ascertain whether any injustice whatever was committed towards these women; and the opinion of his right hon. and gallant Friend then at the head of the War Office (Colonel Stanley) was that, whenever there was the case of a wife not of a bad character, the War Office almost invariably made an order in her favour, without there being any necessity at all that she should take out a summons, or attempt by legal means to enforce her claim. That was certainly the case during the period he held the Office, and he had never heard any complaint of a substantial kind. Indeed, he had never heard of any complaint whatever. Therefore it seemed to him that when the system was working so well it was undesirable to interfere with it. He remembered that on a former occasion he was ruled out of Order for referring to a second Amendment before it had been proposed; and, therefore, he should be only right in adhering strictly to the Rules of Debate, especially at a time like the present, by reserving any observations on the second point raised by the hon. Member for Sligo. But he was bound to say that, if the existing power was enlarged in the manner proposed by the hon. Member, 751 it would, in his opinion, lead to a great deal of fraud on the part, not only of women, but of soldiers. The question raised by the hon. Member for Sligo was of considerable interest and importance, and one which it was highly desirable to have settled once for all; and, that being so, he thought the hon. Member was entitled to the thanks of the Committee for bringing the matter to an issue, and affording them the satisfaction of knowing what was the real opinion of the Members of Her Majesty's Government with regard to it. The reference which had been made by the hon. Member to a number of hon. Gentlemen who voted on a former occasion when the Bill was before the Committee he regarded as very interesting; and the point which it illustrated was, he thought, most important, as showing the opinions held by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches on the occasion referred to. He (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) had himself looked into the list, and found that there were 13 Members of the present Government who voted with the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) when he last proposed to amend this clause of the Act, and amongst them the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, who voted on both divisions, and by his vote seemed to have dissented from the great Constitutional doctrine that the Crown had absolute command of the soldiers' pay. It was to be regretted that the hon. and learned Attorney General was not then in his place, because, otherwise, the Committee might have listened to a recantation of the opinion which he formerly held, and the reasons which induced him to alter his views. He (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) would not take up the time of the Committee by referring in detail to the other Members of the Government who voted for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leicester, beyond mentioning that amongst them was one noble Lord who acted as Political Secretary to the Treasury, and another who otherwise assisted in that Department. With the exception of his noble Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who was always sound in his doctrines and logical in his arguments, 752 there was no other Member of the present Government who voted against the Amendment. He trusted that the hon. Member for Sligo would proceed to a division, and that the result would show that Members of the Cabinet were united upon this question.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
said, he thanked the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) for having brought forward his Amendments on the present occasion. He (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had himself taken great pains with the subject, and had brought forward a similar Amendment in previous years. He had not done so that year, because so many promises had been made on the subject by Ministers that he really believed the obnoxious clauses would be removed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General contended that it was always usual to place discretion in the hands of magistrates and other officers. But in this case discretion should only have relation to the fact. If the money was proved to be due from the soldier, it could not be within the discretion of the officer to say he should be exempted from its payment. From a Return which he had obtained, it appeared that in 1874 only £58 Os. 11d. was paid under Clause 107 of the Mutiny Act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was hardly correct in accounting for this by the small number of cases that arose, for it appeared by the same Return that 629 women, the wives of soldiers, and 1,241 young persons who were their children were in receipt of parochial relief, a fact which in itself was sufficient to show how difficult it was for women to get any effectual remedy. In the year 1837, a clause was inserted in the Mutiny Act, declaring absolutely the non-obligation of the soldier for the maintenance of his wife and children. But public attention became aroused, and was directed to the matter; and about the year 1872 the then Minister of War (Mr. Card-well) promised that the clause should be expunged. That was actually done; but the alteration was made in such a manner as to render utterly nugatory the nominal advantage which had been gained. He feared that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on those Benches were becoming very moderate in their liberality; and not only did things appear to move very slowly, but, from the argu- 753 ments which had been advanced on that side of the House, it would seem that they were likely to become retrogressive. His hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), for instance, now expressed the opinion that the second Amendment of the hon. Member for Sligo went too far, and was unreasonable; yet that Amendment was identically the same that he had supported when he (Mr. P. A. Taylor) brought it forward some years ago, and its object was to repeal a qualification which Earl Cairns declared in the House of Lords rendered the provision absolutely nugatory. He (Mr. P. A. Taylor) should support the Motion of his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Sexton), who, he trusted, would proceed to a division.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he had already expressed the opinion, on a former occasion, that this subject was well worthy of careful consideration by the Secretary of State for War. In his opinion, as at present advised, there ought to be some discretion given to the Secretary of State, who was responsible for the Army; but, notwithstanding that opinion, as he had before said, the subject was a very fair one for inquiry, and he could promise that it should be carefully looked into at the War Office, and the result stated to the House in the course of the year.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he would admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had met this matter in a spirit of courtesy and conciliation. Nevertheless, having regard to the many futile efforts that had been made to restore considerations of humanity to the Act, and the many pledges which had been given by right hon. Gentlemen formerly occupying the position of Secretary of State for War, he was obliged to confess that he regarded all promises made in connection with the Act with a considerable amount of apprehension. He certainly could not congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) upon the speech he had just delivered, in which he became the advocate of the Government in resisting the claims of women and children. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), on the other hand, had dealt with this matter as might have been expected; for they all knew that no Party considerations, or the mere fact that he now sat on the Ministerial side 754 of the House, could change the aspect of the case in his mind. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General had defended the discretion given to the Secretary of State for War on the ground that some discretion must be given; but he (Mr. Sexton) would point out that some discretion would still rest with the Secretary of State, even if his (Mr. Sexton's) Amendment were adopted. Was it just to say that because the magistrate had discretionary power, and because it had been exercised in favour of the applicant upon public grounds, another discretion having reference to military discipline must be likewise piled up upon the appeal of the woman? The discretion of the magistrate was relevant to the case; but that of the Secretary of State was not so. He proposed that the word "may" should be struck out and the word "shall" substituted. That proposal still left it to the discretion of the Secretary of State to fix the amount to be paid by the soldier. It did not say that he should order the payment of 6d. or of 3d. per day; it meant simply that the Secretary of State should do something; and he (Mr. Sexton) claimed that his discretion remained complete, inasmuch as he could, if necessary, cut down the amount to ¼d. For those reasons he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War not to allow the present opportunity to pass without taking some practical action in the matter. He was obliged to express his surprise that the hon. Member for Burnley should discover such a difference between the present Amendment and that which he supported two years ago. As a matter of fact, the Amendments were identical; and the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley was a proof of the inutility of opposing the principles of justice and humanity to the interests of Party in the House of Commons. Had the hon. Member still sat on that (the Opposition) side of the House, he would, no doubt, have been the foremost champion of the cause, and would have described the wrongs of these unfortunate women and children in language sufficient to stir the hearts of the most fossil Tories. Although 13 Members of the present Government, when they were in Opposition, had voted for the amendment of the Act, they could now only oppose the charge of vagueness to this demand for 755 justice. The right hon. and learned Judge Advocate General defended the deposit of the soldiers' expenses on the ground that many cases were trumped up, and that the result of the summons was uncertain. But that applied to all charges, and it was impossible to say whether anybody was guilty or not until the case was finished. Were they to be told that because one dishonest woman in 100 might make a claim against a soldier, as wife or otherwise, for some contribution, 99 honest women were to be shut out from redress? With regard to the removal of soldiers before they became liable, he maintained that this shameful practice ought to be put an end to; that the Queen's Service could very well afford to do without the assistance of such men for a month or two; and that where a man had deserted a woman he should be kept in the country until his case was disposed of. In conclusion, he could not but express regret that the change from one side of the House to the other had wrought such an alteration in the opinions of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, he was disposed to support the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) in his endeavour to amend the Act. According to his reading of the section, it must appear, in the first place, to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State for War that the soldier had deserted, or left without reasonable cause, his wife, or children under 14 years of age. It might seem a very small matter to retain the word "may" in the clause; but the word "shall" in this case would make all the difference, and its adoption would convey to a great many people who took an interest in the matter certain evidence that the House of Commons would act upon the view that justice should be an imperative demand upon the Secretary of State, to the full extent which the Act of Parliament allowed. For these reasons he should support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Sligo.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 116: Majority 67.—(Div. List, No. 63.)
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.