HC Deb 07 August 1916 vol 85 cc701-19

Order for Second Reading read.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Lloyd George)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be to read a second time."

This is a very simple Bill which does not require much explanation. It remedies two obvious defects in the Army Act which has been forced upon my attention by recent circumstances. The first is with regard to civilian witnesses. In regard to a court-martial, there is power vested in a court-martial to summon civilian witnesses to give evidence. It is quite obvious that in an investigation into the conduct of officers, civilians may have all the evidence that is relevant. It is rather remarkable that although that power is vested in a military court where there is a court-martial, there is no similar power vested in a court of inquiry into the circumstances which proceed from a prosecution of that kind. It is therefore proposed by this Bill to give power, on the certificate of the Secretary of State, to make provision for the summoning of civilian witnesses before a military court of inquiry under the Army Act, where their testimony is essential for arriving at the facts.

The second proposal deals rather with the constitution of the courts. There may be circumstances where not merely the conduct of officers is concerned but where the conduct of civilians may be implicated. Under the present powers, the constitution of the court of inquiry must be confined to officers. That is obviously unfair if civilians are implicated, perhaps much more seriously than the officers. It is therefore obviously fair that there should be a power vested, in conditions of that kind, to say not merely that the court should consist of officers who are there to adjudicate on matters upon which their experience and training would necessarily qualify them to express an opinion, but that there should also be civilians present in reporting on facts which involve civilians and officers alike. For that reason I propose that there should be a power, in cases where civilians are implicated, to set up a mixed court. It has been suggested, in order to meet the views of the Army, that the civilians should be confined to Members of either House of Parliament, because obviously the Houses of Parliament are the legislature, and have the power at any moment to set up a Select Committee to investigate the conduct of anybody, be he civilian or be he an officer of the Army or the Navy. Therefore, it is stated, in order to meet any possible misgivings on the part of officers, that if mixed courts should be set up to investigate the conduct of officers, in those cases the civilian members of the court shall be confined to members of the Legislature. Those are the two provisions of this Bill.

Very deep interest was felt in this Bill by the late Member for the Mansfield Division (Sir A. Markham). I am perfectly certain that men of all parties, whatever their views may be with regard to his actions or his opinions, have heard of his death with regret. There were many who differed from him in views; there were, perhaps, still more who differed from his methods, but I do not think anyone for a moment doubted his sincerity, his patriotism, his utter fearlessness, and a courage which I have never seen equalled in the most trying circumstances. He discussed the matter with me under very great anguish and pain, but always with the greatest courage. I am sure it will be the feeling in every section of the House that we have lost an honest and courageous representative of the people at a time when the nation needs those qualities more than ever it did. I ought to tell the House that I am introducing this Bill under circumstances brought to my notice very largely through his instrumentality, and there is one reason why I am exceedingly anxious that it should get through at the earliest possible moment. There are circumstances which involve imputations upon officers and upon others. I may say at once that all the officers concerned not merely welcome but court inquiry and the fullest investigation, and they are naturally very anxious that whatever court is set up shall proceed without any loss of time to investigate these circumstances, and I trust the House will see its way to allow me to get this Bill, if possible, to-day, because it is not in the public interest that a matter of this kind should go uninvestigated for a moment more than is absolutely necessary. I trust while the matter is sub judice there will be no reference or discussion either in Parliament or in the Press of the f circumstances. It is not merely very unfair to distinguished officers who have rendered great service, but it is also unfain to the Army, and therefore I trust there will be no further reference inside or outside to the matter until the court investigates it. Then it will be considered by the Army Council, by the Secretary of State, and by the Government, and, if necessary, by the House of Commons, but I trust meanwhile the House will enable us to put an end to this at the earliest possible moment by letting us get this Bill.


I should like to join in saying one word as to the loss the House has sustained in the death of Sir Arthur Markham, who took such a great interest, and, indeed, was the originator of this Bill. I believe he had the respect of every man and every party in the House, and he certainly had the affection of a great many. As I understand this Bill, its object is to enable courts of inquiry, which hitherto have been composed only of military judges, to summon before them witnesses and call for documents in the possession of persons who are not under military law. That, of course, is an innovation, and if it had been in any wise an attempt to set up a court to make these people amenable to the judgment of a court of military inquiry, I think the House would have a great deaf to say before it allowed such a procedure. But the object is alone to compel them to attend as witnesses and bring documents which may be necessary in the interests of justice, and then I understand what the right hon. Gentleman proposes as protection to these witnesses is that some members of the court should consist of persons who are not subject to military law, preferably Members of either House of Parliament. I think that is a satisfactory arrangement and a proper protection to those who are not under military law, and certainly I shall make no opposition to the right hon. Gentleman getting his Bill.


While I am entirely in favour of the Bill passing in one sense, in another it involves a tremendous innovation and, I think, a breach of the privileges of Parliament. I welcome everything the right hon. Gentleman has said as to Sir Arthur Markham, who was worth a dozen of us, and whose death I deeply deplore in the interests of the House and in the interests of the vigorous prosecution of the War, and I was delighted that the right hon. Gentle- man paid him a very handsome and an entirely well-deserved compliment. Let me point out the constitutional innovation that you are now making—first, as regards the Army and Navy, and, secondly, as regards this House. In the past court-martials have been called by a convening authority, and that convening authority called men under discipline—in the words of the Scripture, "men under them"—to serve as courts. Are we under the Army and Navy? What convening authority has power to place me upon a court-martial? [Interruption.] Then these are not courts-martial. If they are not, and are mere courts of inquiry, why should we then, this being a matter affecting the House of Commons and Parliament, surrender any portion of our authority, namely, the right to set up inquiries independently, because really it comes to that? Of two things one, either a pure military or naval court, which will be a court, or else, as we did in the Mesopotamia case, and in the case of Gallipoli, let us all surrender our rights, and the right of Parliament to nominate a particular inquiry. Who is to be the selector of the tribunal? Is it the War Secretary? I respectfully demur to that arrangement. I am sure these gentlemen have not committed an offence from the fact that they welcome this inquiry. We are clearly not now dealing with what I may call a matter for a court-martial. If it is not a matter for a court-martial, no crime has been committed. If, then, this is simply some suggestion of favouritism which has been alleged against these men, that is a matter for the House of Commons and for the House of Lords as Parliament, and we should not surrender to a military tribunal a power of investigation which is not to end in conviction or condemnation, but which is only going to be an inquiry. These inquiries and their members have hitherto been nominated solely by this House or the other place, and I therefore think that we are now, without sufficient investigation, without having sufficient time to probe and explore this question, making a departure from our good old constitutional practice.

It was with some hesitation that I accepted the Mesopotamia and Gallipoli inquiries, but there was such a strong feeling on the subject that we at once gave way, considering the quarter from which the suggestion came. But this is a wholly different matter. This is a matter which has sprung up within the last week. We had Gallipoli before us for twelve months, and we had Mesopotamia before us for six or eight months, and therefore we were in a position to know what were the issues which it was likely the tribunal would have to investigate. But that is not this case. I do not know what this inquiry is to examine, and that very fact ought to make us the more careful. If we are to inquire into questions of feminine influence—questions of curtain lectures and other matters of that kind—Army officers in time of war ought not to have their time taken up with matters of that kind. It is for us, as a House of Commons, if these matters deserve consideration, to name and to know who are the persons who are to inquire into these very delicate questions. I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman's intentions. I am criticising the method. I think we are taking a very grave step without sufficient inquiry. Above all, why should we now agree to give the right hon. Gentleman this Bill in all its stages on an August day? Has anyone to be guillotined or hanged? Is anyone's character in such a state of jeopardy that this Bill need be immediately passed? I think not. While you are not going to call these courts-martial, as I understand, yet at the same time you will load the court of inquiry practically with a majority of Army men. These are Army matters. The Army is jealous, and justly jealous, of its own dignity and honour. I should be in favour of letting the right hon. Gentleman nominate a pure court of Army officers to deal with this matter. Who is to select the members? Are we to have a debate on their selection? What power have we over this selection? Some Whip would go round and would find some bald-headed gentleman—I am very much in that condition myself—and before anyone knows anything about it, the court would be constituted by the private selection of a couple of men in this House. I deprecate this method of procedure. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman in defence is this: He says this Commission will have to deal with matters affecting civilians. But that is the case with every court-martial. We have set up courts-martial under the Defence of the Realm Act. Have we asked that they should be diluted with laymen? We have done nothing of the kind. While I am quite willing to give the right hon. Gentleman his Bill, I would deprecate his introduction of the dilution of laymen—of Members of Parliament, and Members of the House of Lords—upon the inquiry. I trust he will stick to the good old rule of having in this military matter a pure court of military men.


One observation of my right hon. Friend rather surprised me, and that was that these courts would not be courts-martial. The Bill itself proposes to amend Section 126 of the Army Act, which relates to the attendance of witnesses not subject to military law before courts-martial. I thought, therefore, it was a Bill to amend the powers of courts-martial to call witnesses before them, and, in the second place, to amend the constitution of courts-martial, and if that was the object of the Bill, I should welcome it very much, because I do not think there is anyone who has appeared before a court-martial in the last two years who will not agree with me that the powers, procedure, and constitution of courts-martial leave very much to be desired.


No, no!


That is my experience. I have been assured by a learned friend of mine who appeared before a general court-martial this year—he is a King's counsel, and wore his robe and wig—that the first question he was asked by the President of the court-martial was, "Who are you, sir? Are you a solicitor?"


I was asked that by a police magistrate.


I hope we do not have the methods of a police magistrate at a court-martial. I suppose that question was put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman by an Irishman?


It was.


The first question that my learned friend asked of a witness was, "Were you not at So-and-so on such a date?" "Stop!" said the president of the court-martial; "you must not ask that question." "Why not?" asked my learned friend. "That is a leading question," said the President, "and you must not ask leading questions." The result was that my learned friend, who was appearing in a case in the heart of the country, was turned out of the court into a snowstorm, and had to remain out half an hour while the court were discussing whether what the President called "leading questions" should be asked. I asked a question of the Prime Minister about two months ago—whether it would not be possible, now that there were so many members of the legal profession in the Army, to see that in every case one or more members of the legal profession who are in the Army should be members of courts-martial. Not only this particular court-martial that we have in contemplation, but many others that will be held before the end of the War, will have to decide very serious issues, involving the character, the reputation, and it may be the whole prospects of men who are serving in the Army, and it is essential that these courts-martial should be carried on according to forms of law. I am only sorry that this Bill is limited in its scope. Everybody who has appeared before courts-martial will agree with me that the procedure adopted by courts-martial is antiquated, and involves a great waste of time. Every question has to be written down in longhand, at any rate that is my experience, by the Judge Advocate, and it is almost impossible for anybody to cross-examine properly. [An HON. MEMBEE: "No, no!"] The hon. Member's experience may be different. I have experienced that myself. As to the constitution of this court-martial—


It is not a court-martial, but a court of inquiry.


If you like to substitute a "court of inquiry" for a "court-martial," then I say it is much better to have a court of inquiry in every case, and to do away with the court-martial altogether.


You have got hold of the wrong Section.


No. With regard to the power to call witnesses, I would like to see not merely this court of inquiry have the right to call witnesses who are not subject to military law, but to see that power extended to courts-martial as well.


They have got it already.


Then I fail to see what is the object.


I thought I had made myself quite clear. I thought I said that courts-martial had this power, and that courts of inquiry have not this power. Therefore, this Bill is brought in in order to give the same powers to courts of inquiry that courts-martial have. Courts-martial can summon witnesses, and they can even summon bankers' books, or documents, or things of that kind.


Then I agree with my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Healy) that it seems that this is a step in the wrong direction. I thought this was a Bill to alter the constitution of what used to be called courts-martial, and to make them courts of inquiry, with extended powers. This is the wrong way of doing it. If the matter that is involved is not strictly a military matter; if it is a matter that involves political or general considerations, then I think, with my hon. and learned Friend, that it would be far better for this House to set up a court of inquiry of its own. It would be giving away very valuable powers that it possesses if it gives away to the Secretary of State for War for the time being the right to constitute a court which may be mainly a military body, and for which two or three Members of this House could he selected, not by the general wish of the House, but simply selected by the Secretary of State for the time being. I was in favour of the Bill when I read it first, but now I am opposed to it. At the same time I do not wish to put any obstructions in the way, and if my right hon. Friend says he wants it to-day, I shall offer no further objection.

Commander BELLAIRS

I gather that there are two Sections, to one of which nobody objects, and that is the Section which empowers courts of inquiry to summon witnesses. This right has always been possessed by a general court-martial, but not by a court of inquiry. It is not possessed by the Navy. The second Section is one to which I feel there is the strongest ground of exception, and that is the power to introduce Members of Parliament into military courts of inquiry. It is put forward on the ostensible ground that the civilians who are to give evidence must be protected. I understand that the Judge Advocate-General is practically a civilian and does, when he is present, largely watch the interests of civilians. I do not see why you want to introduce any special protection. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is acting really on the old rule that before a general court-martial can take place there must be a court of inquiry. Is that the rule nowadays, or has that rule been broken? On the report of a court of inquiry you frame your indictment for the court-martial. It is perfectly evident that the whole object which the right hon. Gentleman has in view is to inquire into the actions of a military officer, and I take it that the report of this court of inquiry will be the means of framing the charge for a court-martial. What I am chiefly concerned about is the precedent you are going to set up under this Bill. Whatever you do will have its reaction on the Navy. If it is a very obvious defect, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that you are not able to put Members of Parliament on a court of inquiry in regard to the Army, it must be a very obvious defect in regard to the Navy, and surely the Admiralty ought to have been consulted when this precedent was proposed. We all know what precedents do, and how they broaden down. We all know what took place in the dialogue between Bassanio and Portia, which is, I think, the finest argument one could have of what can happen in the case of a bad precedent. I believe this to be a bad precedent. I believe that the precedent -will increase and increase. The real good precedent which this House has set up, and which it has invariably followed, is that the judges should not be Members of this House. Under this Bill you are going to reverse, that principle. The pendulum always swings over to the further extreme somehow in these things.

We are now going not only to make the law, but we are going to make ourselves judges. We are going to make the law in this Bill and at the same time, on the simple fiat of the Secretary of State for War, a number of Members of Parliament will be chosen as judges. I think you are going flat against one of the best precedents that this House has ever created, and that is that we will not make ourselves judges as well as make the laws. The tendency in this House has always hitherto been that while we make the laws, we will not have anybody a Member of this House who also administers the laws; but in recent changes I am very much afraid that the pendulum has swung over in the other direction. What I also complain of, and especially in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is trying, or he wishes, to take this Bill in all its stages to-day, is that we are really met to discuss this Bill without knowing the special object for which it is created. It is said that it is for the period of the War. They always make that excuse. What special object is there in this case? Why should we be in the dark if charges are to be made against anyone? We are discussing this Bill under conditions of low visibility, which are often more fatal to discussion than low visibility is in a fight. I think we ought to have some indication of the real object. We are told that the special charges are the undue influence of women. Surely then, Members of Parliament ought not to be on this particular tribunal. If you were to take the whole female sex and balance them against the 670 Members of Parliament in the undue influence they have exerted against the War Office for their constituents and their constituencies, I am certain what the answer of the War Office would be. I take as much guilt myself as any other Member of Parliament in regard to worrying the War Office, and I am perfectly certain that the undue influence women have exerted is but as dust in the balance compared with the undue influence that the 670 Members of Parliament have exerted. Yet it is proposed to put Members of Parliament on this tribunal. I object to the precedent which is going to be created. I think it will be bad for the Army, and if it is followed by the Navy it will be bad for the Navy.

Major-General Sir IVOR HERBERT

I agree with some parts of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bellairs). I agree with him that there does not seem to be sufficient reason for adding Members of this House to the court of inquiry. On other points I cannot see any objection to the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentlemen (Mr. Healy and Mr. Llewelyn Williams) who have spoken seem to be suffering from that confusion of ideas which too often besets legal gentlemen when they have to deal with courts-martial and courts of inquiry. We heard a great deal about courts-martial from my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. L. Williams), but this Bill does not affect courts-martial. The powers which are given under this Bill to a court of inquiry are already possessed by courts-martial. It seems to me that it is only reasonable that when a court of inquiry is appointed to take evidence concerning, it may be, a charge against an officer, he should have the power to get every sort of evidence which is available. It is not placing him upon his trial, but he has the right, if there are statements derogatory to his character brought forward, of obtaining an inquiry into these statements, when he knows that he is not guilty of anything that would bring him before a court-martial. I think the Army ought to be obliged to my right hon. Friend for having amended what was a deficiency in the Army Act, and I only regret that it has been thought desirable to add the Sub-section which provides that the Act shall only continue in force until the termination of the present War. This is a Committee point which will no doubt be dealt with in Committee. With regard to the power to add Members of this House to the court, I would strongly urge my right hon. Friend to consider whether he does not really effect his object by giving the power, which is a right power to give to courts of inquiry, of calling evidence of whatever kind and compelling the attendance of witnesses, and that he should consider whether it is not desirable to leave the Army to do its own business, so that when there is a court of inquiry which may affect the character of the Army through an officer it should be his own peers, officers like himself, who would sit upon it, instead of there being Members of this House, whether they answer the description given by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite or not. In selecting Members of this House to sit upon the court of inquiry, I already hear canvassed the names of Members who, I am told, have been approached to sit upon the inquiry which is coming, an inquiry of which I know nothing at all. I think that that is most undesirable, and I think that it would be far better to leave it entirely to the Army to set up the court of inquiry, and that you should give that court every power which it could have to compel the attendance of witnesses and obtain such evidence as may be necessary.


There seems such doubt as to what a court of inquiry exactly is that, perhaps, I had better refer the House to the Section of the Army Act, Section 124, which deals with the matter. A court of inquiry is an assembly of officers directed to collect evidence, and, if so required, to report upon any case which may be referred to them. A court of inquiry may be assembled by the Army Council or by an officer in command of a body of troops consisting of one or more corps. We are asked in this particular Bill to amend drastically Section 124 of the Army Act. If you pass this Bill a court of inquiry will no longer be an assembly of officers. There is an important Sub- section, Sub-section (d), which provides that the Court will be guided by written instructions, which will be full and specific, and state the general character of the information required, and also state whether a report will be required or not. Are Members of this House, appointed on this court of inquiry, going to take these written instructions of some other authority? I doubt myself if they will. I have had a good deal of experience sitting in Petty Sessions Courts and other Courts of that sort during the last couple of years, and I have sat on a great number of courts-martial, generally as president, and there is nothing which I would dislike more than having a couple or three Members of this House associated with me on a court-martial. I quite admit that as president of the court I have occasionally been tied up by the laws of evidence, and if I could have had a couple of really smart K. C.'s or County Court judges or even solicitors I would have been very thankful. But looking around me I do not think that I could look for any assistance from Members of this House. We have not had Members of this House shining very much when they come to deal with legal evidence. We remember the Marconi Committee. Did we shine on that? Did it command the respect of the country? I do not think so. The Secretary of State for War tells us that in order to prevent the misgivings of officers it is proposed that the civilian members shall be Members of the House of Commons. I doubt myself if this will allay the misgivings of officers. From what I know of the Army the Army has got a more profound lack of confidence in the House of Commons than in any other body in the whole Kingdom. There is no body other than the House of Commons that the Army dislikes and distrusts more. Therefore, to ask the Army Council to accept the services of two Members of the House of Commons in this particularly grave inquiry must mean, I think, that the Secretary of State for War has impressed on the Army Council something which the Army Council would not like at all, if only it had its way. Unless there is more information given as to the necessity of this procedure I shall be inclined to vote against it.


I have listened to the hon. and gallant Member, who incidentally happens to be my own Member as well. Therefore I can appreciate, as one of his constituents, his opinion of the House of Commons. Incidentally, I may say, in view of his great experience of courts-martial during the past few years, and judging by his experience and his knowledge of Parliament and everything else, thank God I am not a prisoner at a courts-martial over which he presides. I came to the House this afternoon with quite an open mind with regard to this Bill. I thought I understood it when the Secretary of State for War explained it. But it is getting more confusing with subsequent speakers. Therefore, I want to come back, in a series of questions, to know what it is we are discussing. As I understand the position, the object of this Bill is to deal with a certain set of circumstances that have arisen and which cannot be dealt with in any other way. If that is the position, I can understand it, and I say without reserve that, having regard to the rumours which have already gone forth in connection with this matter, the sooner it is dealt with the better. I can conceive nothing so calculated to kill the energy and spirit of any man as when he is living in a cloud of suspicion, and I know, speaking of the trade union movement, what it is very often when we have got to do things that we cannot always explain, that immediately there is some kind of rumour started and it destroys the very best elements in your leaders. Applying that to a much greater principle, namely, that we are engaged in this life-and-death struggle, and that charges have been made against officers, then those officers are entitled to say, "I cannot go on with my work as efficiently as I want to do unless these charges are dealt with immediately." If the object of the Bill is to deal with that, and that alone, I do not care whether it is a court-martial or a court of inquiry. On the other hand, my hon. and gallant Friend here says that no Members of Parliament ought to be on it. I am not disturbed about Members of Parliament being on it, but I do submit that if a civilian's interests are affected, as distinct from those of a military man, then the civilian ought to have a representative on it. From that point of view we are entitled to as much justice as any military man.

I would not sit down without saying that we on these benches have had more, probably, to contend with in reference to the late Member for Mansfield than any other body. But I would take this opportunity of saying, as a Labour man, strongly as we differed invariably, we always felt that he was a clean, honest, straight fighter. His bark was often worse than his bite. No one regrets his untimely end more than those connected with the Labour party.


The last speaker has put the matter very plainly to us. Since this War began certain civilian matters have been more mixed up with the War Office than was previously the case, and the War Office has got to do a great deal of work now which is not strictly military work, and I think it self-evident that a military court of inquiry would not be the proper court to deal with such questions. At the same time it may be totally inconvenient and totally wrong to institute a court of inquiry appointed by this House, as has been suggested by both the learned Gentlemen who spoke on this subject, because it ought to be a departmental rather than a national matter—that is to say, one that concerns the Army though not actually a military business. I am not stating what the case might be, but that such cases may occur during war time. It is quite evident that during war time there is a certain amount of civilian work done in the War Office in which, from time to time, there must be mistakes which require investigation, and that investigation ought to be made, not purely by military men, but that there should be some sort of court, not entirely civilian but mostly civilian, to deal with such cases. And I think the suggestion of two Members of Parliament is a good one.

After all, we have many friends. We are looked upon by the public as a moderately respectable body. Perhaps this House is as good a body to choose civilians from as any other. I think probably, for the sake of rapidity of the work, that it would be better to choose two Members of this House than two K.C.'s, because legal points are apt to take a good long time. But I do see the necessity for some semi-civil court to inquire into semi-civil subjects dealt with by the War Office at the present time, and I am heartily in favour, both with the object of preserving the privileges of civilians in connection with this House and also of keeping as high as possible the honour of the officers at the War Office, of the proposal that there should be some semi-civilian court to make these inquiries, not to give judgment, not to try by court-martial or do anything of that kind, but simply to investigate the cases and to report to some higher authority which, if necessary, can bring them up before a court-martial or in a civil court, whichever it may be. But as it is a semi-civilian matter, I think that there ought to be more or less a civilian court to try these things. It is very important, if there is such a court, that it should have full power of collecting evidence.


It appears that there are two objects of this Bill. The first is to make the investigation more thorough and more reliable. I understand that we all agree with that part of the Bill. I quite agree with the hon. Member for South Monmouthshire that the Army might well be trusted to look after its own business. But this is not the business of the Army. This deals with circumstances that are not always the business of the Army, but are also the business of non-Army people, and I am bound to say myself that where the inquiry, though nominally it deals with the character of military men, yet in the verdict it deals substantially with the character of civilians, then it is only right that civilians should be upon that tribunal. Some hon. Members, either from their experience of others or from their knowledge of themselves, have spoken rather lowly of the House of Commons. As I understand, the Secretary of State for War has said that this was introduced at the request of the officers themselves. They were not unwilling that there should be civilians. Having once granted that the Army officers themselves were anxious that they should have some safeguard in the work of those civilians who were thus selected, they thought that it would be a good precaution to have Members of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords on the court of inquiry, and I venture to think that it is in the interests of both officers and civilians.

5.0 P.M.

Colonel GREIG

The House seems to be under some misapprehension as to the character of these courts of inquiry and courts-martial. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Ellis Griffith) and the hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Labour benches (Mr. J. H. Thomas). What is the position of courts-martial at the present time? Courts-martial under Section 126 of the Army Act have full power to summon any witness, civil or mili- tary, but courts-martial cannot inflict any punishment unon a civil witness if he commits contempt of court or refuses to give evidence. It can only make representation to a Civil Court as to the conduct of that witness and the witness is protected by being able to go before that Civil Court and show that what he did was correct. If he is in the wrong the Civil Court punishes him. Courts of inquiry have no power to summon civil witnesses. A court of inquiry is assembled under rules issued by His Majesty through the Secretary of State under the Army Act, and those rules are subject to the ultimate control of Parliament. A court of inquiry is an assembly of officers directed by a commanding officer or the Army Council in certain cases to collect evidence and report with respect to a transaction into which he cannot conveniently himself make inquiry. It never gives a final decision. Another rule says: Whenever any inquiry affects the character or military reputation of an officer or soldier, full opportunity must be afforded to the officer or soldier of being present throughout the inquiry and making any statement or of giving any evidence he may wish to make or give and of cross-examining any witness whose evidence in his opinion affects his character or military reputation and of producing any witness in defence of his character or military reputation. Unless this Bill is passed there may be cases in which officers or soldiers whose reputation is affected cannot compel the presence of those witnesses before the court of inquiry. This Bill gives them that power, but these witnesses, being civilians, require the same protection that the civilian witness before a court-martial gets, and the way to give him that protection is not to send him to the ordinary Courts of Justice for them to decide whether he is right or wrong in his attitude before the court of inquiry, but to adopt the sensible expedient provided by this Bill. In any case, where the Secretary of State certifies that any non-military person may be affected in his character, it gives him power in the rules to provide for the inclusion as members of the court of inquiry of civilians. The Bill says: The rules may further, where the Secretary of State certifies that the evidence before the court is likely to affect the character of persons not subject to military law who are to he called is witnesses, provide for the inclusion as members of the court of one or more persons, being Members of either House of Parliament who are not officers. You have the control of the Secretary of State, and he is subject to the control of Parliament and may be criticised here. It is only to protect the witnesses that this provision is necessary, and, in those circumstances, I think that this Bill ought to be passed.


I confess that I feel rather dubious as to that part of this Bill which makes it compulsory that any extra members added to these courts of inquiry must be Members of Parliament. I shall strongly support the omission of those words which make it incumbent on the Secretary of State and the Government always in such cases to select Members of Parliament. We must not lose sight of the fact that Members of this House constitute the final court of appeal in all matters of grievance and in all matters of public inquiry. These inquiries will affect the character, not only of private individuals, but also of officers in the public service. I do not know what is the law in England, but in Australia we are so anxious that the final court of appeal should be free from the presence of any person who has taken part in the proceedings of a lower jurisdiction that we have a special provision that judges who have decided any point in any case in the Court of nisi prius are not eligible to sit in the court of appeal. It is thought that the court of appeal should always be absolutely free from any danger of disturbing influence. This inquiry might form the subject of a discussion in this House, and it would put hon. Members entirely in a false position if they were to have in this House members of that tribunal who had been, not judges on points of law, but jurors on points of fact affecting character. Those gentlemen on that tribunal would have an altogether false weight of influence in this House. I should think that they would probably refuse to take any part in any proceedings arising out of such an inquiry. If the Government wish to preserve the liberty in a special case of inviting Members of Parliament to sit on such courts of inquiry, I would suggest that they certainly should not make it a part of the compulsory provisions of the Bill.


The right hon. Gentleman will see that there is no disposition in any quarter of the House to refuse him the powers which he seeks in this Bill, but there has been exception taken in many quarters, and from my point of view rightly taken, to the provision with regard to the extra representation upon these courts of inquiry. I do not think, broadly speaking, that there will be any particular ground for objection to Members either of the House of Commons or of another place sitting upon these courts of inquiry, but there is nothing in the Bill, and we had nothing at all in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, to indicate in the slightest degree how these members are to be selected. Are they to be Cabinet Ministers? Are they to be supporters of the Government? Are they to be Members of the Opposition? On what ground or basis are they to be selected? I do not know that the House of Commons has ever had a similar proposal placed before it for its consideration, and I think it would have been far better if, instead of this somewhat curious method of procedure, the right hon. Gentlemen had adopted the plain and simple plan of placing judges on this court of inquiry. I believe that the Courts are not busy at the present moment. We are told that this is a Bill to deal with particular cases. It is not a continuing Bill. It is to come to an end after the War. As far as our information goes, it is only to deal with urgent and particular cases. The right hon. Gentleman hopes to get the Bill through all its stages to-day. I am afraid there is a probability that he may not be able to do so, but it is quite clear that the same objection would not be made from so many quarters if he altered his proposal, and I would suggest, instead of Members of either House of Parliament, that he should put judges of the High Court into this Section. There are one or two other points with which I would like to deal. This inquiry, I take it, is a private inquiry, but, I presume, if as the result of it any charges are found to be substantiated, that the persons involved will then have to go before a court-martial. I would like to know, before this Bill passes, if the inquiry is to be a secret inquiry, not open to the public, and if the court-martial, which may follow, is also to be held in private.


Those are matters quite outside the scope of this Bill, and the hon. Member must not go into them.


If that is so—


The hon. Member must not pursue that topic. I have just pointed that out to him.


I am not going to do so. I can quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, but in my opinion we ought to have some more information as to the particular facts upon which this Bill is based than the right hon. Gentleman gave us in his speech. I do not suggest for a moment, and I am sure that nobody will, that anybody ought to be condemned before they have been heard and found guilty, but in view of the rumours and reports that have been going about, not merely in the Press, but also in the Lobbies and elsewhere, I think before this Bill is passed the House should be given the fullest and frankest information possible with regard to the real reasons why this Bill is required. We have not had a word upon that subject. The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal, that the House and the country should not press him upon that point, but I cannot agree that he has adopted a wise and proper course. I believe, not merely in the interests of the Army itself, but in the interests of the whole country, that the wisest plan would have been to turn the searchlight upon these transactions and not to seek in any way to hide them.


On a point of Order. If it is proposed to take the further stages of this Bill now, I respectfully and formally object. It is a course which requires the general assent of the House.


May I say that I shall not press it if there is any objection. I can only appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman if he cannot see his way to withdraw his objection. If when we get to the Committee stage I cannot meet his wishes, then I say at once that I shall move to report Progress and not press it.

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.