HC Deb 02 April 1900 vol 81 cc1033-8

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk) in the Chair.]

MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

I have put down a small Amendment to this Bill on Clause 5, which I hope will be accepted. The clause applies to deserters who come back into the service, and by their good conduct have their desertion overlooked. I think any person who really knows the character of a soldier will agree with me that the commanding officer ought to recommend the case before the Secretary of State gives the man back his pay. I do not want to stop the man getting his pay, but I think the commanding officer is the right man to make the recommendation, and I beg to move.

Amendment proposed— In page 3, line 18, after the word 'may,' to insert the words 'on the recommendation of the man's commanding' officer.'"—(Mr. Warner.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I am afraid that I cannot accept the hon. Member's Amendment, but I may point out that under the clause as it stands at present it is quite impossible that the view of the commanding officer can be overlooked. I think it is most important that this power should lie in the hands of the Secretary of State, and I think this view will be accepted by the Committee. I may point out to the hon. Member that his Amendment would place a restriction upon the exercising of the prerogative of mercy by the Secretary of State of an invidious character, because this clause refers also to fraudulent enlistment, which he will have full power to forgive. Nothing has been more gratifying to me during the present war than the way in which the men who have deserted have come forward. I hope the hon. Member will not insist upon this Amendment. Under Section 79 the Secretary of State has power to forgive; and how illogical it would be if this Committee were now to lay down less merciful treatment.


said he thought there was a difference between fraudulent enlistment and simple desertion and coming back, because a man sometimes got something by fraudulent enlistment. On the understanding that the commanding officer would be consulted, he begged to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

said that the clause only referred to Section 161 of the Army Act, and that section had only reference to cases of fraudulent enlistment, and to only one kind of fraudulent enlistment, namely, where a man had three years good conduct service; and the section said that such a man should not be tried for the offence, but it also said that his prior service should be forfeited. That referred to fraudulent enlistment of a limited kind. It was perfectly true that under Section 79 there was power both as to desertion and fraudulent enlistment, but as the matter was presented by the Under Secretary of State for War he was perfectly correct in saying that the clause did not do what the Under Secretary said it did.


I am prepared to recognise anything, now that the hon. Gentleman recognises that this Amendment is properly drawn by the legal advisers of the War Office.

MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

had upon the Paper the following Amendment— In page 3, after Clause 2, to insert the following Clause: 'The provisions of the Army Act, enabling marine officers to sit on courts martial ashore, shall in future be extended to courts martial on marines afloat.'


The new clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for Devonport is out of order.


On a point of order, may I state that my Amendment has been already moved in Committee on this Bill. I do not wish to argue with the Chairman, but on the occasion to which I refer a distinct pledge was given that this particular Amendment would be accepted at a later stage. It was in 1891, and the Amendment was moved by Mr. Pope Hennessey in the identical terms in which it now appears on the Paper, and the First Lord of the Admiralty of that day gave a pledge that the Amendment would be accepted in some form. The present Speaker of the House on another occasion, when a similar Amendment was moved on the Second Reading, said that it could not be discussed then, but that it could be dealt with when the Bill was in Committee, and the First Lord of the Treasury rather supported my contention. I merely wish to justify myself for having put the Amendment on the Paper on the present occasion.


I have very carefully considered this question. I do not think because an Amendment escaped the notice of a Chairman in one year, that therefore it is in order for all time. On the occasion to which the hon. Member refers, the First Lord of the Admiralty pointed out that the Amendment could only be received as an Amendment to the Naval Discipline Act. I have examined the other precedent referred to by the hon. Member, and I cannot find that it supports his contention.

Clause agreed to.


MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

asked whether any provision would be made for better sleeping accommodation for soldiers when billeted. He would also like to know what sort of breakfast an innkeeper would provide for 1½d.


The question is hardly one to be raised on the Schedule of the Army (Annual) Bill. The schedule places upon innkeepers an obligation as to prices, and it would be most inconvenient and almost impossible to discuss now so large a question as whether the British soldier is or is not fed as well as he might be.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

said he did not know what breakfast an innkeeper could provide for 1½d. per head. He did know that Lockhart's would only provide a cup of coffee and a slice of bread and butter for that sum, and it seemed to him that soldiers on the march required something more substantial than that. The Government were now asking the working classes to join the Army, and when that was the case Tommy Atkins should be treated more liberally than he had been in the past. The British soldier was only paid 1s. 3d. per day, whereas the colonial soldier received 6s. 3d. a day. That was no encouragement for an Englishman to join Her Majesty's service.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(The Lord Advocate.)


said he desired to take the opportunity of impressing once more on the Under Secretary of State for War the necessity for having the Army Acts consolidated. The original Act was passed in 1881, and since then it had been more or less amended almost every year. There was a peculiarity with regard to the Act. In 1885 it was provided that in all future printings of the Army Act the Amendments should be incorporated. The result was that the copy which was printed as the Act of 1881 was not the Act as it stood in the Statute-book, but as it appeared in the Queen's printer's copy with the Amendments inserted by later statutes, which was very inconvenient. Suppose the War Office supplied a copy of the Army Act two years ago; that would appear to be the Army Act of 1881, and if it happened to get into the hands of an officer on a court martial he might read it as the Act of 1881. Some Amendments had, however, been made on certain clauses and it was no longer the Act of 1881. The printer's copy contained the alterations which successive Parliaments had made, and it was exceedingly inconvenient to have a printer's copy purporting to be the Act of 1881, which really was not the Act passed in 1881, but an Act passed in that year which had been amended by subsequent Acts. It was almost impossible to put down an Amendment to the Army Bill without going through every Act passed since 1881 to see whether a particular section had been already amended. He himself had had to go over every Act since 1881 in order to make sure that Section 161 had not been amended. That was very inconvenient, and he thought the time had come when the Act should be put on the Statute-book as it now existed. There was no difficulty whatever in having the statutes consolidated, and if that were done it would be a great advantage.


The hon. Member has put two different proposals before the House without distinguishing between them so clearly as to convey to hon. Members not familiar with the facts that they are different. He has suggested the consolidation of the Army Acts, but in another portion of his speech he seemed to point to the re-printing of the Act from time to time, so that no officer might act on a copy of the Act of 1881 in ignorance of the fact that it had been amended. Dealing first with the question of re-printing, the hon. Member said that he himself had some difficulty in following up the various Amendments, and he threw out the suggestion that some officer of the Army administering this Act might perhaps be guilty of a miscarriage of justice. I do not think that would be the case, because every officer on a court martial is bound to be guided by the Manual of Military Law, which gives the Act as amended, and also indicates the purport or effect of the Amendments, so that any such miscarriage of justice is impossible. I am quite ready to admit that the case for the consolidation of the Army Acts is a very strong one. It is a case which of necessity grows stronger year by year, and is now very strong indeed, and I am prepared to join with the hon. Member in a pious aspiration that the Acts may soon be consolidated.

MR. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

asked if the 430,000 troops mentioned in the Bill included the colonial and Volunteer forces in South Africa as well as the Volunteer forces in England.


I have already given the details four or five times. The number mentioned includes the troops borrowed from India, the colonial forces, the Volunteers and the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa, but it does not include the Volunteers in this country.

Question put, and agreed to; Bill read the third time, and passed.