HC Deb 02 April 1883 vol 277 cc1255-60

Order for Second Reading read.


said as the House was aware, this we the old Mutiny Bill under a new The War Office had taken the opportunity this year of introducing Amendments into the Bill, most of he might describe as matters of c intended to supply omissions in the original measure. He would, he call attention to one or two alterations of importance. The first was in Section 6, and was to enable officers, as well as magistrates, to attest recruits. The Amendment had been inserted in consequence of the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting this year, which pointed out that the former condition of things was inconvenient. It was highly inconvenient to have to go before a magistrate with the papers in all cases, and the recruits themselves disliked it. An Amendment proposed last year by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had been incorporated in the Bill. It was one which rendered it obligatory on the Secretary of State for War, instead of optional, to order a sum to be deducted from the daily pay of a soldier for the support of his wife or children, either, in the first place, in liquidation of a sum adjudged to be paid by the soldier by an order or decree made for his payment of the cost of the maintenance of his wife or child, or of any bastard child; or, in the second place, if it appeared to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that a soldier had deserted or left in destitute circumstances, without reasonable cause, his wife, or any of his legitimate children under 14 years of age. Section 8 made further provision respecting the validity of orders of the military authorities for the detention in custody of persons subject to military law on board ship; and Section 9 made some alteration in the status of certain half-pay officers. Formerly, officers on the half-pay list were all retired, and were, therefore, not made subject to military law; but now that depended upon whether they were on the "active" or "retired" list. As half-pay officers on the "active" list were really waiting for employment, it seemed only right that they should be subject to military law. The Bill, therefore, subjected to such law— Officers of the Regular Forces on the active list, within the meaning of any Royal "Warrant for regulating the pay and promotion of the Regular Forces, and officers not on such active list who are employed on military service under the orders of an officer of the Regular Forces who is subject to military law. A Warrant would be published shortly defining the officers to whom this provision would apply. House to now read time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Judge Advocate General.)


said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly defined, so far as he could understand them, the new provisions in the Bill. He had pointed to one which was exceedingly important; and that one, singularly enough, he had not so clearly explained—he referred to the one he had last mentioned, dealing with officers who were still on half-pay waiting to be employed. It would be a very dangerous thing to state off-hand that that was a proposal which should be readily accepted. It was one which required more explanation than the right hon. and learned Gentleman had given; because, under it, they would have officers living like civilians, subject to all the pains and penalties to which officers serving with their regiments were liable. The House had a right to ask for a more detailed explanation than they had yet received. As to Section 6, which would enable an officer to attest a recruit, no one could deny that it was a fair, reasonable, and just proposal. He presumed there was nothing in the Bill further than the right hon. and learned Gentleman had stated. There was one point which had not been dealt with, and which had come up incidentally in the debate on the Army Estimates—it was a statement made in the Inspector General of Recruiting's Report, and that was the question of desertions and fraudulent enlistment into other regiments. As he understood it, what had been done of late was this—the man who deserted and fraudulently enlisted into another regiment when that fraudulent enlistment was found out, was allowed to remain in the regiment into which he had fraudulently enlisted, and was not sent back to the regiment into which he had enlisted originally. Was that the case; and, if so, was it the practice now adopted?


asked whether there was any intention of taking more than the second reading to-night?




said, that, some days ago, he had given Notice that on the Motion for the second reading of this Bill he would propose a Motion. He had not availed himself of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule in order to oppose the progress of the measure, because he wished to recognize the spirit displayed by the Government in accepting one of the two Amendments he unsuccessfully brought before the House last Session. But the Amendments introduced into the old Mutiny Act by this Bill still left one of the existing main evils of the law untouched. In the matter of compelling a soldier to contribute towards the support of his wife and family, if he had deserted them, it was well that the discretion of the Secretary of State had been dispensed with, and that the section had become mandatory; but everything in this matter depended upon the spirit in which the clause was administered. He trusted the War Office would see their way to fixing the amount to be stopped out of the soldier's pay—3d. a-day in the case of the soldier, and 6d. a-day in the case of the non-commissioned officer. He hoped that the noble Lord at the head of the War Office would inaugurate such an administration with regard to the deduction for the purpose stated as would carry into full effect the intentions of the Legislature. The history of the liability of a soldier to maintain his wife and children was this—Lord Card-well—then Mr. Cardwell—promised to consider the matter; and in the Act of 1881 engagements were solemnly entered into by the Legislature that the wife and children of a soldier should be looked after and cared for as they would be if they did not belong to a man in Her Majesty's Service. Had those engagements been fulfilled? Though there were 600 wives of soldiers, and 1,200 children, receiving outdoor relief, the amount deducted from pay and handed over by the War Office towards the support of these poor persons was only £58, or short of 1s. per head per year. The provision enabling the authorities to summon a soldier from his regiment to attend an inquiry at the place where he had left his wife and family was utterly nugatory. Why had it proved so? Because, before the soldier could be summoned, the wife or her representative—unless the Guardians were willing to do so—were obliged to deposit a sum of money with the military authorities to pay the soldier's expenses. This sum was never less than £2; and the result was that the woman, who was usually of the poorest and most helpless class, and the Guardians being unwilling to incur an expense of £2, £3, or £5 for the sake of recovering 2d., or perhaps 1d. a-day, the British Army became a shameful refuge for persons who wished to avoid their natural and just obligations. Of what avail was the discretion of the Secretary of State to make an allowance out of the pay of the soldier? It was of no avail. Prosecutions rarely took place. There was a regulation which enabled a soldier ordered on foreign service to evade his liability to attend the summons to answer the charge against him; and he (Mr. Sexton) thought the Army would suffer little if, when a soldier had such a charge brought against him, he was separated from his regiment for a time, or, if necessary, drafted into some other regiment. By this means the respectability of the Army would gain, and its efficiency would suffer nothing. It might be said that there would be collusion between a soldier and his wife or relatives to get him called away from his regiment in order to enable him to desert; but such cases would, he thought, prove to be very rare. If the military authorities suspected it, it would be easy to send the soldier up under escort; at any rate, the system by which poor women and children were cheated out of the contribution from the pay of those who were their natural providers was perfectly immoral and disgraceful. The House paid large sums of money for the vindication of the law, and he could conceive no way in which a few pounds could be better spent than in compelling men in the Public Service to meet such charges as these.


said, the hon. Member had admitted that the Government had gone some way last year in the direction advocated; but he thought it would be more convenient to discuss the question in detail in Committee, and that, if the hon. Member considered it desirable to insert the second part of the Amendment in the Bill, he should give Notice of it. He was afraid he could not give the hon. Member any such undertaking as he had asked for; but the subject was under consideration. He would look into the matter before the Committee stage; but he could not undertake that the Government should go further in the matter. The most convenient course now would be for the hon. Member to give Notice of the Amendment he thought ought to be inserted.


said, he had no doubt that the plan suggested by the noble Marquess was the plan most convenient for the Government; but it was not so for the hon. Member (Mr. Sexton), who rightly insisted on the reform he desired to effect. If the hon. Member took the course recommended by the noble Marquess all his control over the future progress of the Bill would be lost, and the Government was at perfect liberty to reject or accept the course proposed by the hon. Member. He thought the House would be very strongly inclined to take up the opposition of the hon. Member to the measure of the Government. The concession which the noble Marquess had made, while it fulfilled all the engagements he had undertaken, practically left the question in the same position as before. As the law at present stood, the woman was compelled, or the Guardians acting for her were compelled, to deposit the cost of the soldier going to the place where the case was to be tried; but, of course, women of this kind were of the dependent and pauper class; and, with a natural anxiety to save the ratepayers' money, the Guardians would not be inclined to expend money on a charge which might not be proved by the woman satisfactorily to the Court. Therefore, although the discretion of the Secretary of State for War was taken away, practically the law remained the same, because the woman in every case was practically deprived of benefit when the soldier was removed from the locality where the woman lived, or sent on foreign service. He would make no suggestion to the Government, but the course advised by the noble Marquess was more convenient to the Government than to the hon. Member; and as this matter had been before the authorities for several years, and before the present authorities for a year, he thought the hon. Member would be justified in asking that the Government should at this stage state what their intentions were.


said, he believed the arrangement would be more simple than the hon. Members seemed to suppose. If a complaint was made by a woman the Guardians took it up. An application was then made to the War Office, which communicated with the officer commanding the man's regiment; and if the soldier made no dispute to the claim the money was deducted from his pay. If, however, he did dispute the claim, there was a further investigation; some guarantee must be taken that the case was a bonâ fide case; but he thought any woman would be able to give a guarantee for a few pounds. In the great majority of cases there would be no dispute at all, and the Guardians would only have to apply to the War Office.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday.