HC Deb 01 April 1912 vol 36 cc1005-10

Order for Second Reading read.

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


I do not want to detain the House at any length in connection with the Second Reading of the Bill, yet it is one of the Bills that year by year slip through the House almost without notice, although it affects the life and liberties and conditions of service of over 186,000 of our fellow subjects. When the Committee stage is reached I hope to be able to move Amendments to make it clear to soldiers that, when they enter the Army, they are not only called upon to defend the United Kingdom against foreign invasion or the Dominions of His Majesty, wherever they may be, but that they are also expected to turn out to shoot down strikers if called upon to do so. That is a fact which the Army Act does not make clear, and it is one that should be apparent to every person who is about to enter the armed forces of the Crown. I beg to give notice that, in the Committee stage I shall move a series of Amendments with the view of securing that object, and also of removing the invidious distinction which the Act sets up between the punishments inflicted upon an officer and the punishment inflicted upon a soldier. I shall hope and expect that military Gentlemen in all parts of the House will see to it that what applies to the common soldier in the matter of punishment shall also apply to his officer.


The House will remember that last year certain special powers were taken by the War Office in connection with the registration of horses. Since then there has been ample time to find out how these powers have worked. There have been complaints by many firms of the way in which the War Office representatives have carried out their duties. This has been mainly the case in connection with large firms who have light van horses suitable for artillery purposes and draft purposes. Some of these firms feel in a difficult position, lest in the event of a war the whole of their business may be ruined owing to all their horses being claimed. Say they have 100 horses, all of which are earmarked by the military authorities and they replace them with a second 100 will the second 100 be equally liable to be taken? I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give these people some assurance that only a limited number of their horses will be taken in the event of a war, and that they will be allowed to know how many horses will be required, so that their business will not be dislocated and that they will be able to make arrangements accordingly.


I am very sorry to hear that the discussion as to whether the military should be employed for the putting down of civil disorder, especially in labour disputes—I do not refer to the recent dispute but to the unnecessary display of force in a recent dispute—is not going to be taken to-night, because now is the opportunity, as in the Committee stage we shall be confined to the immediate Amendments on the Paper. It is necessary to pass this Bill once a year, and once a year the House has an opportunity of debating whether land forces are necessary, and for what purpose they are desired. I am very much afraid that in the Committee stage, when the Chairman will naturally desire to confine discussion to the specific Amendments before us, we shall not be able to discuss these very important matters with so much freedom as we could have done to-night, but I quite fall in with our Friends if they think that the matter can be discussed in Committee. I understand that it is usual to have an all-night sitting in the Committee stage of the Army Bill, and I hope to have the pleasure of going tiger-hunting when the tiger comes. It seems to me that this would have been a splendid opportunity to express our opinion—much better than in Committee—on the question for what purposes are our Army required—whether it should be used in the case of civil discord, which is an issue of much greater importance. While I would exclude the military from interference in civil discord except when absolutely necessary for the safety of the State, I would by no means support propaganda among soldiers themselves for the purpose, as it were, of inciting them to mutiny against their officers. These are two totally distinct propositions, and for that reason I should have liked to have a debate on the subject to-night; but, as my Friends have decided otherwise, clearly we shall be able to afford some entertainment when the Bill comes on in the Committee stage.


Supposing we are not able to discuss this subject to-night, we will be able in Committee to have a little tiger-hunting, as my hon. Friend has said, when we reach that stage of the Bill, and can use that opportunity as well as we could have used this one.


I will only detain the House with two observations. The first is that I desire to thank the Under-Secretary for War and those concerned for the alteration which has been made in Clause 5 of this Act, which is due, at any rate in some measure, to the Amendments which I put down. I am glad to see these Amendments incorporated this year. It seems to me a very good thing if we can put down Amendments one year and then, having stated them, leave them for the consideration of the War Office or other Departments, and then find that in a year's time they are embodied without further difficulty. That is a principle of which I entirely approve. I venture, therefore, to suggest that there are other directions in which this Army (Annual) Bill may be improved, and I give notice that, following the Second Reading, I shall put down further Amendments. I shall not intrude myself or my Amendments unduly upon the House, but I hope in a year's time to-see them embodied in the Bill.


May I ask the Under-Secretary for War whether he is going to do anything about the confidential Report on officers?


Does that come under the Army Bill? I would like to see the Section referring to it.


I asked when I came to the House, and I understood it did. Of course, I submit to your ruling.


I do not rule that it does not, but I am asking the hon. Member to point out to me under what Section.


I am afraid I am unable to do that.

Colonel YATE

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will kindly give the considerations that induced him to raise the payment of sergeants, in Clause 5 of the Act, from 6d. to 7d.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)

It is considered desirable that many points of policy should be deferred from this stage to the Committee stage, therefore I will postpone my reply to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) and the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) until that stage. I understand that the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. J. Ward) is prepared to raise the whole question on the Committee stage. With regard to the last question, that also, if I may respectfully suggest so to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, will be better dealt with in Committee, but if he wishes to press it now I can answer his question. On the point with regard to horses raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I quite agree that it would be a real hardship on the owners of large numbers of horses if all their horses were taken on mobilisation while none of those who are competitors were similarly treated. I can assure him that as soon as that is brought to our notice the War Office will take active steps to prevent any hardship happening. We are at this moment considering with a strong Committee which understands the whole question, how we can ensure, in the event of mobilisation, no hardship shall be caused to particular firms or individuals more than the necessary hardship which must occur to the whole community when mobilisation takes place. An hon. Member asks me whether we will give any indication when we have completed our examination of the subject. We will communicate to all those concerned the basis on which we propose to take the horse, so that the people may know before hand, so far as we possibly can arrange, what demands will be made upon the different people who own large numbers of horses in the country. I trust we will now have the Second Heading of the Bill. We can discuss the further matters on the Committee stage.


I should like to make a protest against what the right hon. Gentleman has just said-namely, in suggesting that the point raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr should be left to the Committee stage, thereby implying that the point raised by the hon. Member exists. I think it is a dangerous precedent for the Under-Secretary to admit that there is a differentiation in the treatment of matter of discipline—

Colonel SEELY

I should like to explain it was the point as to the use of the soldiers in aid of the Civil power to which I was referring, and which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Merthyr and the hon. Members for Bow and Bromley and Stoke.

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

Adjourned at Twenty-six minutes before Twelve o'clock.