HC Deb 18 March 1907 vol 171 cc582-96

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading, said it was desirable that he should make some brief explanation of the Bill. He was not sanguine that the Committee stage would be shorter than usual, but fewer Amendments of substance had been introduced than was ordinarily the case. The first change merely accelerated the date on which the Act came into operation outside the United Kingdom. The second change was a verbal Amendment necessitated by what was done last year in the way of substituting detention for imprisonment. There were two further changes of more importance. The Government gave an undertaking last year to consider the schedule of food provided to soldiers who were billeted. They found that the soldier who was billeted got one substantial meal, and he also got a breakfast of tea and bread which was inadequate. The Government had added bacon. It was good, wholesome, substantial food and universally popular. Moreover, they had cut down the pretentious magnitude of the middle meal, and added a supper. The result had been an increase of 3d. in the charge. Hitherto the soldier had been allowed two pints of beer, but now he was to be left with one, and he would be enabled to ask for the equivalent of beer in mineral water. That was, however, not quite so bad as it looked, because over and above this he would have 3d. of his own with which, if so minded, he could obtain another pint of beer. That was all he had to say upon the schedule, and to his mind, though, to be sure, he was no authority upon such things, the soldier would be better off than before. Then he came to the last point of change in relation to field punishments. Upon that there had hitherto been difficulty. In South Africa there was a very small class of undeserving men, who, by the commission of some offence, contrived to get themselves arrested for trial by court-martial, and in consequence, having to be sent to the base, escaped the burden and the risks of war. The matter was considered very carefully by a strong military committee, and it had been decided that there should be trial in the field, and that certain field punishments should be awarded. Those punishments were very carefully guarded, so that no punishment should be inflicted that caused injury to life or limb, and there would be no flogging or anything of that kind. There might be forfeiture of pay for limited periods, or it would be in the power of the Commander-in-Chief to declare any place in camp a prison or detention barrack with punishments, which might include handcuffing, not to exceed two hours a day or for more than three days out of four. That would be a substitute for imprisonment, and it was the only way they could do it in the field. Ordinary field punishment would be deprivation of camp privileges, and generally the punishments would be such that would not be a relief to the skulker by his being sent to the base. Under those strict limitations the Government thought it right to introduce field punishments. Last year they swept flogging out of the Statute Book altogether, and the Government felt in doing so they had acted upon the best advice and taken the safest and wisest course. That was all he need say upon the Second Reading. The Committee stage would be put down for Wednesday, when, no doubt, there would be the usual lively and interesting discussion. He moved that the Bill be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said there were a few questions which he should like to put to his right hon. friend the Secretary of State, for War. Of all subjects that could come before the House this one was the most difficult for them to deal with. It was impossible to understand what was now being proposed without reading former Acts of Parliament and the Amendments which had been made to the King's Regulations from time to time. He strongly appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to put an end to the scandal of legislating by reference in the Army Annual Bill. He hoped the matter would be looked into with a view to making the proposals more intelligible to the people who had to come under them. Certain suggestions were made last year with a view to mitigating some of the hardships. The Duke of Connaught, as Inspector-General, had issued a Memorandum which was very strongly in favour of the most advanced views on the subject of military law. He had recently put a Question in the House to the Secretary for War upon the subject, and the reply he received was that the points raised by the Inspector-General had been dealt with partly under the provisions included in last year's Army Annual Bill, and partly by amendments to the King's Regulations promulgated by Army Order No. 36 of this year. The only allusion to the subject in that Army Order was— Amendments regarding military punishments and the method of reporting them have been approved, and copies will be issued to all concerned. He mentioned that simply to show the difficulty of understanding changes made in this way. He appealed strongly to the Secretary of State for War to put an end to the scandal of legislating in the Army Bill by reference. The more the right hon. Gentleman wished to popularise the Army the more necessary it was that the men should have some sort of idea of the system under which they served. He wished to put certain definite questions to his right hon. friend. His first question was in regard to the drafting Amendment on page 4, Clause 9, of the Bill, subsection 2, which repealed Section 135a of the Army Act of last year. It was proposed to repeal the whole section and to substitute for it the third schedule of the Bill. He would ask any hon. Member if he could understand the change. He was quite willing to accept the statement of his right hon. friend that it was a mere drafting change, but he could not suggest to the House that it was a drafting change which made things simpler or more easily understood. Section 135a was very clear. If they were to pass the Bill in the form in which it now stood—that was a matter for consideration in Committee—he and his friends would be obliged to renew their appeal that the law should be codified and put in an intelligible form. At line 32 on page 5 of the Bill now before the House they would find the following proviso— Provided that a provost marshal and his assistants shall, as respects any soldier in his or their custody and undergoing field punishment, have the same powers as the governor of a military prison. The Secretary of State had power to prescribe the duties of a governor of a military prison, and from time to time such regulations had been issued, but he doubted whether anyone was thoroughly competent to state what those powers were. That was the reason why he thought they should not agree to the proviso without knowing what those powers were. There were two points on which he wished to inquire. At the bottom of page 6 it was provided by the Bill that the officer commanding-in-chief in the field, and any general officer he might appoint, should exercise the powers which were given in the original Act to certain more easily-defined persons. They were the powers of reducing a non-commissioned officer to the ranks. Those were powers which it seemed natural should be conferred, and he only raised the point to inquire why they were conferred now, when it had not been, thought necessary to do so before. But the point on which he laid more stress was the provision that the powers of the Secretary of State should be exercisable by officers commanding-in-chief in the field, as the last four lines of the proviso appeared to sweep away the whole of the existing limitations on those powers. Those words at the top of page 6 of the Bill were most startling. He would like to refer the House to Section 133 of the existing Act. That was a section which had been referred to over and over again in the House, and certain portions of it dated back to the great discussions which raged for fourteen days when the Army Annual Bill was in Committee before 1880—discussions in which Mr. Parnell took a prominent part. That section gave power to the Secretary of State to make, alter, and repeal rules for the government and regulation of military prisons. It included among the things for which rules might be made the maintenance of discipline among prisoners and punishment by personal correction. There used to occur the words "not exceeding twenty-five lashes." Only the words "personal correction" remained, but there was a proviso that— Such rules shall not authorise corporal punishment to be inflicted for any offence, nor render imprisonment more severe than it is under the law in force for the time being in any public prison in England. The new Sub-section 5 of the present Bill, however, provided that the limitations on the power of making rules as to the punishment of prisoners and soldiers and as to the severity of imprisonment should not apply. He imagined that that referred to the sub-section to which he had just called attention. If that was so, the effect of the repeal was startling, and must go infinitely beyond the intention of the Secretary of State.

VISCOUNT TURNOUR (Sussex, Horsham)

said he did not propose to offer any criticism of the Bill at that stage, but he wished to ask the Secretary of State to explain one point. The point to which he referred was the proposal in Clause 4 to insert in Section 43 of the Army Act after "to the prescribed general officer" the following words— Or in the case of a soldier serving in India to such officer as the Commander-in-Chief of the forces in India with the approval of the Governor-General of India in Council may appoint. He did not know the reason for the addition of the words proposed. Although there might be good reasons for the change, it seemed at first sight that it would be better for the soldier in India, or anywhere else, to know exactly to whom he was to apply in case of grievance. That was especially so in a climate like that of India, where people in all positions were apt to imagine that they were being badly treated and to become irritable. All those who sat on the Opposition side of the House who advocated that a fuller and better breakfast should be given to the private soldier were grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the concession now given; but he wished to make the suggestion that for the words in the schedule "Four ounces of bacon," there should be substituted "four ounces of meat," having regard to the fact that soldiers of Jewish extraction would be unable to eat the bacon, it being repugnant to their religion.

MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby)

said he was sorry to detain the House at that hour, but he felt that the real point to which his right hon. friend the Member for Forest of Dean had referred must have escaped the notice of the Secretary for War. He meant that part of the Amendment on page 6 dealing with the penal code. He agreed with his right hon. friend that the Amendment proposed made the penal code against a soldier far more severe than at present. For himself he believed that it would be far wiser for this country to follow the example of France, and to abolish courts-martial in times of peace, and to rely only on the civil code; but in any case the House should see to it that the Army Annual Act was not made more severe. He thought that the discipline of the Army depended more and more on the morale of the troops and less and less on punishments. He protested against the theory that victory could be achieved by terrorism of the soldier either in peace or in war, and that was proved in the Russo-Japanese War. He supposed that this particular clause had been put in by inadvertence, or in order to meet a supposed inconvenience which might arise in time of war; but he thought it would do more than that. He had never heard of any man commiting a minor offence in order that he might be sent back to the base. He appealed to the Secretary for War to make some statement which would relieve the minds of some hon. Members, even if he could not go the whole length of repealing the penal code in time of peace.


protested against the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Abercromby that the penal code was wanted in order to terrorise the soldiers to fight; it was only meant to preserve discipline in time of war. However, what he specially wanted to call attention to was that the Bill was really an extraordinary bad example of legislation by reference. It was legislation by reference carried to the point of absolute unintelligibility. It was impossible to form the slightest idea of what the effect of the alterations in the existing law would be, because from Clause 4 to Clause 10, occupying three pages of the Bill, consisted entirely of legislation by reference. He quite recognised that it would be unreasonable for the Secretary for War to re-cast the whole of the Army Annual Act every year for the purpose of introducing a few alterations; but the right hon. Gentleman might follow the example set by his colleagues, the President of the Local Government Board and the hon. Member for Somerset, who had printed as a Parliamentary Paper a short document setting out the effect of proposed legislation on existing legislation. It could be quite easily done, because it must all have been worked out beforehand by the Department.

MR. COURTHOPE (Sussex, Rye)

desired to add a word about dealing drastically and effectively with the Army Act. He thought that if it was generally realised by hon. Members who had or might have to carry out the provisions of the Army Act, how every officer of the auxiliary forces might be called upon to interpret it, and to sit as a member of a court-martial which had to administer it, and if they realised the difficulty that even trained lawyers found in interpreting an Act of this kind, they would realise the great importance of putting the Army Act in a really simple form. He could recall one occasion in his own personal experience which rather pointed to that necessity. A court-martial became necessary in a large Volunteer camp. The court-martial was appointed. An up-to-date edition of the Army Act was not obtainable. It not only was not obtainable in the camp, which contained, he thought, about four brigades of Volunteers, but it was not obtainable at the headquarters of the regimental district, which were within reach, and where a telegram was sent asking for the Army Act. In fact the court-martial had to administer an Act which not a single member of the court-martial had ever seen in his life, and which was not obtainable for the use of the court-martial. He dared say it did not much matter. If they had obtained the Act they would not have understood it, and he did not suppose the prisoner or anyone else was any the wiser or any the worse for the fact that they had not the Act to know what was in it; but the fact remained that the Act which was put in force year after year, by the House, and which had to be administered, or might have to be administered by officers of the auxiliary forces without any special legal training—men who needed a simple, clear, concise Act to guide their judgment and an Act which ought to be understood by the prisoner upon whom those officers were sitting in judgment—could not be obtained. He thought they were justified in urging upon the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps when he had carried out his great scheme of setting up a Territorial Army, that he should prepare a scheme of putting the Army Act on a really simple and intelligible basis. There was another point. Section 7 of the Army Annual Bill, he thought, would have a very curious effect. It repealed Paragraph E. of Sub-section 2 of Section 180 of the Army Act. That Section 180 referred to the penalties which could be imposed upon officers of the Indian Staff Corps. It said— A court martial may sentence an officer of the Indian Staff Corps to forfeit all or any part of his Army or staff service, or all or any part of both. He took it that by doing that they put the officers of the Indian Staff Corps on quite a different footing from any other officers, for officers under Section 44 of the Army Act could be sentenced to forfeiture of senior pay, which, he took it, was much the same thing. Under this section, up to the passing of the Army Annual Bill, a similar sentence, though in rather different words, could be inflicted upon officers of the Indian Staff Corps. Now that was done away with. He could not think that it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to place the officers in India on a different footing from officers in other parts of the Empire. There was one other point—that under Section 10 of the Army Annual Bill, "Paragraph 1 (c) Provisos 6, 7, and 8 shall be re pealed." Provisos 6, 7, and 8 referred to Section 44 of the existing Army Act, and there again there were matters which required some explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. Proviso 6 appeared to be that— The said summary punishment shall not be inflicted on anon-commissioned officer or on a reduced non-commissioned officer for any offence committed while holding the rank of a non-commissioned officer. That was making the penal code harsher than in the past. He did not think that that was a thing the House would consent to without an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. Proviso 7 was a definition of the offence of aggravated drunkenness. If they did away with that definition they would make more than one section and sub-section of the Army Act unintelligible where that offence was referred to. Proviso 8, which they were supposed to repeal, dealt with the offence of disgraceful conduct, and said— That for the purposes of this section disgraceful conduct means any offence specified in Section 18 of this Act. It appeared that they were to leave Section 18 in the Act but to repeal Proviso 8 of Clause 44, without which Section 18 was perfect nonsense. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman or his legal advisers would consider these matters and deal with them. In order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of replying to the points which had been raised, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said he desired to second the Motion of his hon. friend, not in any hostile spirit, but because he thought it had been shown from all parts of the House that hon. Members regarded it as a great departure that that Bill, which might be described as reference gone mad, should be brought forward on a Monday night when the print had only been circulated a few hours previously. He quite agreed that it was not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to catch the House napping and to pass the Bill without the House being aware of its importance. But the Secretary of State must know that the House could not master in a few hours all the details of so complicated a measure. Those Members who had seen the vicissitudes through which Army Annual Bills had passed year after year were asked now to pass a Bill of far greater importance than any which had preceded it; a Bill giving larger powers to individuals than had ever been conferred on any officer or Secretary of State. That being so, he felt that some full opportunity must be given for discussing the subject. If the right hon. Gentleman could not throw upon one of his colleagues the duty of satisfying the House that the Bill was not of the far-reaching character that some thought, it would be better for the country and the Army to go without the Army Annual Bill for a year in order that the House might know what the alterations were under which the rank and file would perform their duties. He begged to second the Motion.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.' "—(Mr. Courthope.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


thought the House ought to be zealous of the liberty of the subject, and none the less because the subject was a soldier instead of a civilian. But as regards the country being without the Bill for twelve months he hardly thought the House would agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite. Having regard to considerations which would arise, the Bill must be passed. The difficulty was as to time. Of a necessity the Bill came late in the session, because the number of soldiers could not be included until Vote "A" both of the Army and of the Navy were obtained. He hoped, however, to satisfy the House that the Bill was far from a revolutionary Bill. He sympathised with the noble Lord in his desire for a plain Bill. They had not codified the law, because codification took considerable time, but they had had the Act reprinted with the alterations shown in the Bill, and if hon. Members looked at the copies in the library they would find that it had been made pretty nearly as plain as if it had been subjected to the drastic treatment of the Statute Law Committee. He thought the time would come, and was probably near, when the whole of the Army Act would be recast. There were provisions in the Bill which gave rise to difficulties in the minds of persons reading the Bill the first time.


said he did not ask the right hon. Gentleman to codify the law. He expressly asked him to follow the precedent of the Local Government Board and to print a paper showing the elect of the proposed alterations on the existing law. If the right hon. Gentleman would do that the House would know where it was.


said he promised to do that some days ago and the print was now in the Vote Office.


pointed out that as there were clerical errors in the paper it was not of much value, because there were clerical errors in the amending Bill they were now discussing.


Not clerical errors. The Bill had been drawn up by one of the most eminent draftsmen of the day, and he was really technically right. When the hon. and gallant Member for Sussex drew attention to the alteration of Section 82 (e), in reference to the Indian Staff, he pointed out that it was repealed. The reason why it was repealed was that the Indian Staff Corps, by amendments of the law, had been merged into the Indian Army, and therefore there was no Indian Staff Corps. The hon. and gallant Gentleman could not know all the provisions of Indian legislation with regard to that, and consequently it was natural that he should find the provision a little obscure, and a good many of the criticisms which had been made we rebased on that footing. There were two or three other points which had been raised, but they were mostly Committee points, except a very serious one raised by his right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, in regard to part of Clause 10.


said that undoubtedly the limitations were struck out which he had read, so that the exact meaning of the provisions as to personal correction was, of course, doubtful.


said last year Section 9 of the Army Annual Act was passed, which enacted in explicit terms that the rules made under Sub-section (2) of Section 1 of the Army Annual Act, relating to military prisons, should not authorise the infliction of corporal punishment.


said that that appeared to him to be among the limitations to which he had alluded.


said it was not intended to be, but before the Committee stage it would be scrutinised and put beyond doubt. What they had sought to do was simply to change the tribunal, but the point with regard to flogging would be made quite distinct on the Committee stage.

MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)

said the Paper to which his noble friend referred had not yet been printed. In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman had himself admitted that without the Paper they would really not know what they were doing, he hoped they would have some assurance that it would be presented to-morrow.


said he had got his Paper on Friday morning amongst his Parliamentary Papers.


I have just been to the Vote Office.


said the printed Paper in the form of a book was an advance copy, and it could not be got until four o'clock that afternoon. He knew that hon. Members could not get hold of the book, and it was not in the library now.


promised to make inquiry.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday.

And, it being half-past Eleven of the clock on Monday evening, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twelve o'clock.