HC Deb 06 April 1883 vol 277 cc1715-22

Order for Consideration read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now taken into Consideration."


wished to know why, as it was Friday night, the Government did not propose to set up Supply again?


said, there was no intention of setting up Supply again, and there was no fixed rule in the matter that he was aware of.


said, he would call the attention of the Speaker to the matter; and, if necessary, he would conclude with a Motion.


said, he rose to a point of Order.


said, he would rise to Order. This question regarding the liability of the Government to set up Supply on Friday night had already been before the House, and had been argued at some length.


rose to Order. He wished to know if the Question before the House was not the Report of the Army Annual Bill?


said, he thought that the course now being taken by the Government was an interference with the rights of private Members. Some years ago the attention of the Government was called to their liability to set up Supply on Friday nights. The question was argued before the Predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, and it was decided that it was the practice of the House, since the time when Thursday was given over to the Government by independent Members, and the right of moving the adjournment of the House on Friday abrogated, that it was the duty of the Government on Friday to repeat the Motion for Supply. He had placed a Motion on the Paper on this subject in the Autumn Session; but he was unfortunately unable to bring it on.


The right hon. Gentleman is not in Order in entering into debate. I understood him to rise for the purpose of putting a question to the Chair.


said, he intended to do so; but he wished to explain what the question was. He wished to ask the Speaker if, according to his recollection, it was not incumbent upon the Government on Friday nights, but not upon any other night, since the year 1861, when Thursday night was given to the Government, and the Motion on Friday for the adjournment of the House until Monday abrogated, to repeat the Motion for Supply, so that independent Members having Motions on the Paper should not be deprived of the privilege of bringing them forward?


I am unaware that there is anything in the Rules or Orders or in the practice of the House which makes it imperative on the Government to set up Supply on Friday any more than on any other day.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, it was important that the Bill should pass through its stages rapidly, and he therefore asked the House to read it a third time.

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


asked the Government to consider, before the Bill was introduced next year, the important question raised last night as to the amendment of the law relating to the maintenance of the wives and children of soldiers. The majority by which the Amendment he had moved was defeated was a very narrow one.


said, he was afraid that he could give no undertaking upon the subject.


said, there were one or two matters which he wished to point out before the Bill was read a third time, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman the Judge Advocate General would answer the questions he proposed to put. In one part of the Bill it was provided that a soldier might be attested before an officer as well as before a magistrate, and he wished to know whether that provision had as yet been carried out in practice, and that a recruit on entering the Regular Army was attested by the commanding officer of a regiment, or whether he was still required to be taken before a magistrate in the same way as before the law came into operation? Up to the present time he had heard nothing to show that this provision of the Army Annual Act of last year had been carried out, and he believed that both the old soldiers and the country at large would like to know whether it had been confirmed by the authorities at the War Office. Also, in connection with this Army Annual Bill, he should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had charge of it, if he could furnish to the House an account of the number of men who had fraudulently entered during the past year? The question was raised last year, and he (Sir Henry Fletcher) thought it was a very important question for the Army at large. There was no doubt that many men had fraudulently enlisted; and he saw, on turning to the Report of the Inspector General on Recruiting, that under the head of "Fraudulent Enlistment," there were only two men who had been rejected. He thought if the real facts came out that there must have been far more than two men objected to on the ground of "Fraudulent Enlistment." He should like also to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he could give the House any information in regard to the new Military Code of Punishment which had been in force since the abolition of flogging, and which must have been in force during the past campaign in Egypt? It was a very important question, and he had mentioned it in the House on several previous occasions. We had since passed through a campaign in Egypt, and we had been told, by very high military authorities, that there had been scarcely any instances of punishment inflicted for any great or serious offence during the campaign. Of course, there must have been some amount of punishment, and he thought it would be satisfactory to the House if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could, on the present occasion, inform them what the number of court martials upon the men in Egypt had been during the campaign, and what the nature of the offences was for which they were tried? He would not detain the House further, but would simply ask these questions.


said, he had no wish to anticipate the reply of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General; but, before the right hon. and learned Gentleman answered the questions which had been addressed to him, he wished to express a hope that the Government would not consent to the proposal made by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) to send every soldier against whom a bastardy charge was made from the place at which he was quartered to any part of the Kingdom in which the charge might be preferred against him. He thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman had already made a mistake in the first concession he had made to the hon. Member in allowing the word "shall" to be substituted for the word "may." There was a very important principle underlying the matter. One of the fundamental principles of Military Law was that the pay of the soldier was entirely at the discretion of the Crown. No one had a light to the pay of a soldier except the Crown itself, in whose discretion it was to give it or to withhold it. In substituting a word which made the duty of the Government imperative, instead of permissive, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had already taken a step which might be fraught with very evil consequences. He wished also to point out to the Government that concessions of this kind had no effect in mollifying the opponents of the clause. He therefore hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman would remain firm, and would not be too ready to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member below the Gangway that a soldier wherever he was summoned should be sent down in charge of an escort to answer the charge made against him. If this concession were made, who was in a position to foretell what amount of expenditure might not be incurred in future? He hoped they would not, at some future day, have an Estimate brought in by the Secretary to the Treasury of the sum liable to be voted by the House to come in course of payment at the end of such and such a year of the expenses of soldiers summoned to attend bastardy cases all over the country. It was a most ridiculous proposition—a proposition only disprovable by a reductio ad absurdam. He therefore requested the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be firm, and not to give a sort of half-hearted answer as he had done a short time ago. He ought distinctly to tell the House, and all those who were familiar with the administration of the Department, that he meant to stand firm, and not to listen to the voices of what he might call "the humanity mongers," who, he was sorry to say, were quite a curse to the country.


said, he had certainly had no intention of giving a half-hearted answer to the question of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). On the contrary, he had told the hon. Gentleman that he could not give any undertaking in the matter. At the same time, after the discussion which took place yesterday evening, which he did not propose to go into again, the matter would have to be considered. In reply to the questions put to him by the hon. and gallant Member for Horsham (Sir Henry Fletcher) in regard to the 6th section of the Acts it did exactly what was asked—it enabled every recruit to be attested before an officer approved by the Secretary of State. He hoped that answer would be satisfactory. His hon. and gallant Friend further asked him if he could give the number of fraudulent enlistments attempted last year. He was afraid that he could only give the number of men who were tried and convicted. He thought the exact number would be found in the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting. The number was about 350, and it was less than it was the year before. His hon. and gallant Friend asked what were the number of general and district courts martial held in Egypt during the campaign. He had answered that question before, and not being prepared to answer the question again, he could only speak from memory. He thought the number was 361, or thereabouts, of which five were summary courts martial, and in only three out of those five cases was "summary punishment" awarded under the Act of 1881. In two of these cases the whole punishment was not actually carried out, but part of it was remitted. He was under the impression that an engagement took place in which the offenders behaved so well that the remaining part of the punishment was remitted, and there was therefore only one case in which the summary punishment was actually carried out in its entirety.


remarked, that in the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting, it was stated that only two men were actually objected to for fraudulent enlistment, and now the right hon. and learned Gentleman said there were 350 cases.


said, he presumed that the two men in question were found out before they were enlisted. The 350 he had spoken of were cases of fraudulent enlistment actually successfully carried out, in which the offenders had afterwards been detected and convicted.


had thought, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman answered the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Horsham (Sir Henry Fletcher), that he was going to give some explanation as to how the new punishment had affected the Army, particularly in the late campaign in Egypt. The question was one of very great interest, not only to the Army, but to the country, and he should be glad to receive some fuller information. The punishment was different from that which had been tried before, and they had now had a campaign in which it must have been necessary to resort to punishment of some kind or other, unless they had had an Army in Egypt far better conducted than any Army had ever been before. He wished, therefore, to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, what course had been taken in regard to punishment, because the punishment prescribed was of a very peculiar kind, and could not be very easily carried out in the field? The offence of drunkenness and other offences must have been committed during the Egyptian Campaign, and the House had a right to ask the Government how the punishments had been carried out, and in what way they had been inflicted upon the men. At the present moment they were hearing a great deal about the condition of the Army, and a great deal about the young soldiers, and how well they had behaved. Therefore, they had a right to ask, and to expect an answer to the question, whether the new punishments had had the good effect which the right hon. Gentleman, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, anticipated they would have upon the Army? He would ask, in the first place, how many punishments had been inflicted in the course of the Egyptian Campaign, and, in the next, what the nature of the punishments had been?


said, that if the hon. and gallant Baronet had given him Notice of the Question, he would have been prepared to answer it. All he could say off-hand was, that, up to a week ago, all the punishments inflicted had either been penal servitude, imprisonment, or reduction to the ranks.


said, he did not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman was able to speak again. He had, however, risen before the right hon. and learned Gentleman did, and he hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be able to answer one question he wished to put. It had reference to Clause 69 of the Act, which might be of considerable importance, although he confessed that he had not been able to find out what its importance was. There had always been a question in the Army as to what officers came under Military Law; whether, in point of fact, it affected officers on half-pay, and the non-effective officers of the Service? In former times, it certainly did not apply to them; but this appeared to have been changed now, and Military Law appeared to be applied to these officers as well as to officers on the Active List. He thought, before they were brought under Military Law, the House ought distinctly to know how many and what class of officers would be brought under that law, by the change now made, who were not under it before? It was a most important thing for persons who were not under Military Law before to find that they were now subject to the Act of Parliament.


said, that, with the permission of the House, he might, perhaps, be allowed to say that he had explained this point very fully on the second reading of the Bill. He thought the hon. and gallant Member could not have been present at the time. [Captain AYLMER: No, I was not.] He (the Judge Advocate General) would give the explanation again. Formerly, all officers on half-pay were really retired from the Service, and, therefore, were not under Military Law; but now, under the New Regulations, those on the Active List were really only waiting for employment, and it was, therefore, thought advisable to place them under Military Law. Officers who were on the Retired List would remain as they did formerly. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman would refer to paragraph 67 of the Royal Warrant of 1881, he would find both classes of officers dealt with.


said, he thought that as the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War, who was answerable for this very important Bill, was not present, and seeing that so many questions had been asked, it was desirable to defer the third reading of the Bill. He would, therefore, move that the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Onslow,)—put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.