HC Deb 20 March 1917 vol 92 cc158-78

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)

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

The House knows the reason for this Bill. Shortly put, it is to provide, during twelve months, for the discipline and regulation of the Army. It is what is commonly recognised in this House as a hardy annual, but in view of the fact that there are three or four new points raised here, I think it is my duty to explain to the House what these new points are. The first Amendment is an Amendment of Section 154 of the Army Act with respect to deserters and absentees without leave. We now propose to amend that Section of the Army Act so that any soldier who is an absentee, who reports himself as an absentee to a police officer, does not need in future to appear in the dock with the common criminal in the morning. Members of the House will have seen in the public Press from time to time cases where a magistrate at a Police Court has before him a soldier who, through no fault of his own, has been late in arriving at barracks, or has lost his train, or has been absent for some other reason over which he had no control. We propose now -that when a soldier finds himself in that position and goes to the officer in charge of any police station and confesses that he is an absentee it shall not be necessary to appear at the Court, but he can be sent at once to the nearest military unit.

With regard to the second Amendment, I think it is also an Amendment to assist the soldier. It is an Amendment of Section 163 of the Army Act, and is really an extension of what is known in law as the Documentary Evidence Act. At the present time Section 163 provides that Where the proceedings are proceedings against a soldier on a charge of being a deserter or absentee without leave, and the soldier has surrendered himself into custody of any portion of His Majesty's Forces, a certificate purporting to have been signed by the commanding officer of that portion of His Majesty's Forces, and stating the fact. date, and place of such surrender, shall he evidence of the matters so stated. 10.0.P.M.

As is well known, numbers of soldiers surrender themselves almost nightly to railway transport officers and provost marshals and assistant provost marshals at the various stations, but those transport officers and provost marshals are not really men within the Section of this Act who are in command of a portion of His Majesty's forces. The real meaning of that statement, "a portion of His Majesty's forces," really refers to a commanding officer of a portion of His Majesty's forces, and the effect of this Section is to make a railway transport officer, or provost marshal, or assistant provost marshal himself in effect a commanding officer for the purpose of signing a certificate to the effect that the soldier has missed his train, and the further effect of that is that it will no longer be necessary for us to send, say, to France for two men to prove that this man is an absentee. This certificate as signed by the provost marshal would be sufficient evidence to show that this man is a deserter, and the effect of that is, first of all, that it ensures a speedy administration of justice; it saves a soldier from being sent under arrest to a military barracks near at hand; and it also helps the soldier in this way, that whenever he arrives at his unit, he will be duly charged. As the House knows, if the soldier is under arrest his pay stops, and consequently his allotment. It stops during the whole time he is under arrest and during the whole time he is under- going sentence, so that this speedy administration of justice will ensure that any long delay will be prevented in future. With regard to the Schedule, it is really a matter for my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. The effect of it is very shortly this: in consequence of the rise in prices, the billeting charges have been raised by 1d. in respect of breakfast, dinner, and supper, and the charge for stable room and forage by 4d. As we know, there has been a great outcry in the House about the rise in price of the various food commodities in this country, and we do not think it unreasonable to raise those charges. Consequently, I hope the House will agree to these new Amendments. I do not think there is any other point which is raised in this Bill afresh, and I hope, therefore, that, in view of the fact that the House has got an opportunity of discussing this Bill in Committee, it will now give it a Second Reading.


I am not quite sure what the limits are of the discussion on this Bill, but there is one question of administration so far as the Flying Corps of the Army is concerned, which I should like to raise. It affects officers interned in neutral countries. It is the custom if an officer is obliged to make a forced descent in either Holland or some other country, which is not directly engaged in this War, to discourage any efforts on his part to return to this country and take up his duties again. I should like to point out that this country alone has adopted that attitude. So far as French officers are concerned, if they be unfortunate enough to land in Holland or some other country, if they can effect their escape they are permitted to do so. But the War Office authorities in this country have suggested, and suggested in such a way as to leave no room for doubt in the minds of the officers, that any attempt on their part to effect an escape would not be looked on with favour by the authorities here. I understand, too, that against their wish, officers have been requested to give their parole that they would not escape. I want the Under-Secretary for War to give this matter consideration. It is quite a common thing to see Royal Flying Corps officers returning periodically to this country for from ten to fifteen days and hanging about here doing no useful work, simply for the reason, which the War Office knows better than I do, that they are not permitted even to attempt to effect their escape from Holland.

If I may be permitted I should like to use this opportunity to ask the Under-Secretary for War to clear up a point which has caused a considerable amount of controversy both in the Press and otherwise, and that is as to on what he based his averages of the losses we have sustained on the Western Front during the last six weeks. I understood him to say that the figures he gave represented the average losses per week of the pilots engaged, but, as the hon. Gentleman went into details and decimals, I assumed he was dealing with the total number of pilots engaged. I have gone into this matter somewhat carefully, and it seems to me that that must me impossible. The figures I have at my disposal suggest rather that the average losses "in the Western Front—


What has this to do with the Army (Annual) Bill?


I may be in error, but I understood that questions of administration could be raised on this Bill.


But this Bill has nothing to do with administration. The only effect of the Bill is that it places the Army under military discipline.


I wish to express a hope that the Government may see its way to a further amendment of the Army (Annual) Act in so far as it deals with the form of field punishment No. J. They have, in practice, instituted a change, but it is not at present covered by the wording of the Act. When this question has been raised in the House it has been pointed out that the House itself is responsible for the wording of the Army Act, which legalises that particular form of field punishment No. 1, known as crucifixion. A very great step in advance was made by the Government recently, as indicated by the Under-Secretary for War when he spoke last on the subject, in adopting a certain modification of this form of field punishment, and what I want is that some words should be put into the Army(Annual) Act which will make it quite clear that this modification shall have the force of law. I do not want to go into the whole question because the House has already had put before it the great cruelty and hardship which may be suffered by men undergoing this field punishment. I know it is not the desire of the high military authorities—of the responsible authorities that any needless cruelty should be inflicted, and the particular modifications which they have brought into force already have done away with the most serious objections to this form of field punishment. I understand that in consequence of the decision of the military authorities, although they do not feel they can dispense with this form of punishment altogether—a step which some of the high military authorities in France have, however, favoured—they have moderated the punishment in such a way as to allow a minimum of freeplay to the hands and legs of men punished in this way.

Everyone who has consulted men who have undergone this punishment knows that much depends on the way in which it is administered. It may be cruel and hand to bear; it may involve acute physical suffering, or it may be that it only involves some suffering with considerable indignity. I believe the form now approved by the military authorities is one which avoids the very great pain and suffering which wore inflicted in the past. I want to ask my hon. Friend if he will consult with the authorities as to the possibility of introducing into this Bill, on the Committee stage, some words which will limit the form of field punishment in the way in which it has already been limited by the decision of high military authorities, and will thus make it quite clear that the intention of Parliament is that this punishment shall not inflict needless cruelty and suffering, and remove from the Army the danger of a stigma which I am sure neither he nor any of the military authorities wish should be incurred. We desire that no punishment should be inflicted which involves needless suffering and cruelty, and I think everyone who has studied the subject must admit that in the past there has been such needless suffering. But we want to ensure that as far as possible under the new Regulations it shall be made impossible in the future. I hope my hon. Friend will see his way to give a satisfactory assurance on that point.


I want again to raise the question of discipline in the Army—a question of a Court of Appeal to which officers can go when they feel that they have grievances which have not been properly redressed. This is the question I raised the other day, and I said on that occasion that I had no complaints to make as regards courts-martial or their administration, but there were numerous other cases where officers who had serious grievances could not get redress. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War, in reply later on in the evening—and I apologise to him for not having been able to be present when he did answer—quite inadvertently, I am sure, misrepresented what I had said. He was replying to the hon. Member for Enfield, who had brought forward cases of officers in which it was felt that the administration of justice had not been properly carried out, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War said that I had already given a satisfactory answer to the hon. Member for Enfield. I am certain if my hon. Friend will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that he seriously misrepresented me, perhaps quite unintentionally. I wish to make no change whatever in what I may call the legal administration of justice by courts-martial or courts of inquiry. I wish to deal with cases where officers and men are unable to claim the advantage of a court of inquiry or are unable to claim a court-martial. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a great necessity for some such court of appeal as I propose. It-was not perhaps so essential when there was a small voluntary Army, but now, when you count your Army by millions, it is most essential that there should be no question of any feeling of injustice in that Army if you wish to retain it as good as it is at the present time. What I would like to see in the Army (Annual) Bill is an amending Clause which sets up a Court of Appeal to which every officer and man could put his case if he feels that the officers above him have not given that attention to his grievance to which he thinks he is entitled. At present there is no such Court of Appeal, and the soldier can only appeal to the officers who have settled his case, or he can appeal to the Army Council which has laid down the law and are at the same time judges of the case. I should like to see a Military Court of Appeal set up something on the lines of the Court of Inquiry recently set up by special Act of Parliament to try certain cases with which we are all acquainted. Such a Court should in my opinion consist of at least one judge of the High Court, together with some military officers, and I should also like to see upon it at least one or two hon. Members of this House who have no official position.

The cases which I think would naturally come before such Courts are grievances about pay. I will give one example. When the Indian troops came over to this country there was a great deal of anxiety amongst their friends as to whether those officers would receive English pay or Indian pay during their service in France and the late Prime Minister gave us to understand that no British officer of the Indian Army would lose by coming to France, and every officer in the Indian Army fully understood that as a definite undertaking that such would be the case. But it was not the case, and there was not one single officer who did other work than that which, he definitely came over from India to do who did not lose money by the transaction. Consequently they felt that they had a very great grievance, and I agree with them. I had a number of these officers serving under me and they appealed to me—


That is administration, and the sole object of this Bill is to apply the military law to the Army. If this Bill did not go through the whole Army would cease to exist at the end of next month. These questions of Indian officers receiving pay are not within the four corners of this Bill.


I was only giving an example, and of course I will not pursue that argument. What I wish to set up is a disciplinary measure, and I was only using the Indian troops as an example why I wished to set up this Appeal Court. At present these officers have no opportunity of appealing for justice. I want to set up a disciplinary court, but, of course, if I am not allowed to give any examples, it weakens my case.


That is a matter of administration. It is simply a matter whether an individual is entitled to pay at a certain rate or at another rate. That is not a matter of discipline, and it could not possibly come before the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Court at all.


I will turn from that point and simply continue my case. I wish to put before the House the urgent necessity for a Court of Appeal for all cases where officers and men feel that they have grievances. There are two Clauses in the Army (Annual) Act: Clauses 42 and 43, the heading of which is "Redress of Grievances," and those are the only conditions under which a soldier or an officer can appeal in regard to his pay or any other grievance. It is the only statutory grant of authority to redress his grievance, and it is that I wish to see developed. At present, under the Army (Annual) Act a soldier can only appeal to his company officer. This officer sends it to the commanding officer and so it may finally get to the Army Council. I want to see it go a stage further. I will not say it is a question of pay. It may be a question of promotion. Whatever it is, it is discipline. It is the only way in which the Army is controlled. I wish to see added a Clause something on these lines: If any officer or soldier, after his complaint has been enquired into under Sections 42 and of the Act and a decision has been arrived at. still considers that he has a grievance or has not had the redress to which he may consider himself entitled, such officer or soldier may appeal to a special Military Court of Appeal set up by this Act, and every officer to whom such all appeal is made in pursuance of this section shall cause such appeal to he forwarded to such Military Court of Appeal and such Military Court of Appeal shall investigate such complaint. and if satisfied of the justice of the complaint so made, shall issue its finding accordingly and forward the same to the Army Council, which shall take such steps as are necessary for giving full redress to the complainant in respect of the matter complained of in-so-far as the finding of the Military Court of Appeal is concerned. Provided that nothing in this section gives any officer or soldier any right of appeal from the finding or sentence of a court-martial. That is what I wish to point out very clearly. I am not criticising courts-martial at all. Then I propose that another Clause should be added, forming that Court of Appeal. Sections 42 and 43 of the Act require amendment, and it is essential that something of this sort should be done. I do not believe you can keep this great Army as a disciplined force unless you bring more democratic views into the government of the Army, and I want the Government to follow that splendid example set by the most democratic Secretary of State for War who ever sat upon that bench, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lloyd George), and to introduce more democratic government into the Army. I know that this Court of Appeal which I propose will be resisted. When the hon. Member goes to the War Office to-morrow every officer there will say "Preposterous!" But still it has got to be. The time has come when the Army has to be governed on democratic principles. The sooner this House adopts that principle, the better it will be for the Army and for the country.


I desire to put myself right with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The two Sections he quoted—Sections 42 and 43—do not say "Redress of Grievances." The title is

"Redress of Wrongs"—

every different story. The first is to the effect that

"If an officer thinks himself wronged by his commanding officer,"

then he may do certain things. The next provides that

"If any soldier thinks himself wronged in any matter by any officer,"

then he may do certain things. There is nothing there about grievances, which is a very different thing.


I regret that there should be any question of disagreement, and I apologise if I used the word "grievances" instead of "wrongs." I look upon those words from the Army point of view as meaning exactly the same thing. Of course I bow to your ruling, Sir. This is the only way in which an officer or soldier can get any grievance about his pay brought to the notice of the Army Council.


I desire to support the appeal made by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey) that there should be an Amendment introduced into the Army Act to deal with field punishment No. 1. I assume from the cessation of the public agitation on the question that the qualifications promised by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War have been carried out, and that field punishment No. I has been so modified, as to remove altogether the horrible and odious characteristics which were cited in this House and in the Press without contradiction. That is very satisfactory; but, of course, it remains a fact that in the case of an officer who is harsh it would be open to him, so long as the wording of the Statute is the same, to revert to the practice universally condemned by the House. I hold the view that anything involving physical torture ought to be eliminated from punishment in the Army. Everybody who knows anything at all about the subject knows that when an army is in face of the enemy you must have some forms of punishment, and rather stringent punishment, and that you cannot resort to imprisonment. I shall never forget the long-drawn out Debates which occurred when the Irish party in this House abolished flogging in the British Army and when night after night—I was not then a Member of the House, but I was sitting under the Gallery listening to the Debates —every military man in this House, with one or two honourable exceptions, in those Debates said that if flogging in the British Army was abolished the whole of the Army would break up. Innumerable officers—there were a great many officers in the House in those days—got up night after night and pointed out that it would be absolutely impossible to maintain any British Army in the field without flogging. At that time one South African War had taken place—it was not the last—and those then in the House succeeded in getting out returns of the flogging that took place during that South African War. The number and ferocity of the floggings that went on during, I think, the first Transvaal War, were perfectly horrible. They were pointed to by the officers who spoke in those Debates—I listened to the Debates myself—as proof positive that you could not maintain the British Army in the field without having recourse to flogging. After a severe struggle flogging was abolished and all modern officers of the British Army are united in their testimony that the Army has greatly improved. All these punishments, which are brutal and savage, have a tendency to degrade men and make them unfit to act as soldiers, and it is recognised now in every democratic country in the world that these degrading and disgusting punishments, instead of contributing to the discipline of an army, demoralise men and injure discipline. Therefore, I hope when the Committee stage comes on the Under-Secretary will introduce carefully considered words which will confine field punishment No. 1—I do not like to use the opprobrious term by which it was described lately — to reasonable punishment. Men who are subjected to that punishment ought to be so fixed up that torture will be impossible. It was stated in the House, and I do not know that it was ever contradicted, that one or two men had died under it.


It was contradicted.


At all events I do not think it was contradicted that the form of that punishment could be and was on many occasions made absolute torture. It is possible to tie a man up too tight. To fasten a man up in a perfectly humane way, an object of derision to his comrades, is punishment of the most terrible character to any man who has any self-respect at all. He is not fit to be in the Army if he has not some self-respect. It is quite enough to do that without adding torture to it.

There is another point I want to raise in the Amendments to the Bill. I am not quite clear, even after the explanation of the Secretary of State, what is the exact scope and effects of these proposed Amendments. Clause 4 says where a person surrenders to a constable, being deserter or absentee he is to be handed over to the military authorities and brought before a magistrate. I cannot see any objection to that, but Clause 5 appears to be somewhat ambiguous, and I am suspicious and doubtful whether it may not have a much wider application than the hon. Gentleman admitted. Where the proceedings are proceedings against an officer or soldier on a charge of being a deserter or absentee without leave, and the officer or soldier has surrendered himself into the custody of, or has been apprehended by a provost marshal. Will that cover cases, which are very numerous—I have some of them in my pocket, which I propose to interview the Under-Secretary about to-morrow—where men are arrested who have never been in the Army but are arrested as deserters because it is alleged they are liable under conscription law, and are arrested as deserters? Will those words have the effect of depriving these men who are arrested as deserters under the Military Service Act of the protection of a Civil Court? That is an extremely important question, and we must examine these words with the greatest possible care to see that there does not lack in them that possibility. I have had one or two cases of my own Constituency who were arrested as deserters, although they were not deserters. In my opinion they were no more liable to the Military Service Act than I am; but they were deprived by a trick of trial by a Civil Court to which they were legally entitled. One is in Salonika to-day, illegally in Salonika, because after a long struggle we were successful in compelling the War Office to issue an order that such men were entitled to be tried by a Civil Court before they were handed over to the military authorities. In the early days this principle which appears to me to lurk in the words of this Amendment was put into force in this country under the Military Service Act, and also in Ireland, where the Military Service Act does not apply. Men were called deserters because they had gone to Ireland to escape the Military Service Act, and the police being in ignorance of the law accepted the statement of the military authorities that they wore deserters as sufficient authority to them to hand the men over to the military without trial. Military escorts were sent, and these young men were placed in the hands of the military without trial. It now turns out, as we knew all along, and it has been admitted by the Government, that the whole proceedings were illegal. These men were entitled to trial before a civil tribunal, before ordinary civil magistrates, and they are now always brought before civil magistrates under similar conditions. Do the military authorities propose by these words to take away the protection which we have obtained for these men? If not, why are these words inserted into the proposed new Clause? Clause 4 says: Where a person surrenders himself to a constable. That is alt right; we do not criticise that.

Clause 6 uses the words or has been apprehended. What is the object of introducing the words "or has been apprehended"? I put this point in order to give notice to the hon. Gentleman that some Amendment will be moved on it, and so that he may look into the matter carefully.


I am sorry I did not hear the Under-Secretary's speech. I should like to ask him a question on a point I have already raised in correspondence with him. Perhaps he can tell us exactly what is the effect of the words in Clause 4,

"Where a person surrenders himself to a constable in the United Kingdom as being a deserter or absentee without leave, the officer of police in charge of the police station to which he is brought…may cause him to be delivered into military custody, without bringing him before a court of summary jurisdiction."

Before the person who is being charged with this offence is handed into military custody how long is he to remain in civil custody? I have had a representation made to me by the Justice's Court of Lanarkshire, where the procedure in cases under the Army Act has been that where a charge has been admitted or is proved there has been commitment of the accused to prison until an escort is provided. In a number of cases some time has elapsed before the escort arrives, when the man belongs to a unit which is situated at some considerable distance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us whether it is intended where the charge is admitted that the accused should be handed over at once to the military authorities of the district to await an escort from his own unit, wherever it may be situated, or whether it is intended that he shall remain in prison until the arrival of the escort from the unit to which he belongs? Where the offence is not admitted, but is proved in Court, is there to be commitment to prison pending the arrival of an escort from any other part of the United Kingdom, where there is a place suitable for detaining a man in military custody? I have been asked to repeat this on account of the delay which has taken place in certain cases. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to give an assurance that in every case immediate steps are taken to send an escort to take the accused away, and that they will not be detained in these places longer than is necessary.


As the House knows, on a couple of occasions during the last few weeks I have drawn attention to the question of the dismissal of officers without giving them a chance of appeal. On each occasion, though I have been treated with courtesy by the Under-Secretary, I was met with something in the nature of a stone wall, and I have had no assurance that these unfortunate officers would have any chance of appeal given to them. The hon. Member for Southampton has referred to a Court that was not purely a Military Court, but one composed partly of civilians and partly of military. I do not go so far as that. I ask again that these officers who are not given a chance of appeal, if they cannot get an appeal at the front should get some appeal at home, and if the hon. Gentleman can give me some such assurance I shall have nothing more to say. I have got case after case given to me where these young officers for very small offences have been deprived of their commissions. As I told the House on the last occasion, a sergeant cannot be deprived of his stripes without a court- martial. It that is the case, how much less ought commissioned officers be deprived of their commissions and relegated to civil life, and perhaps then be brought in again as a conscript, without, at any rate, a chance of a court of inquiry. Yet case after case has been given to me where these officers have appealed over and over again for a chance of a court of inquiry or a court-martial and have been refused or have received no answer at all. Therefore, I appeal to the Under-Secretary to the War Office to have some sort of Court of Appeal or court of inquiry or court-martial whereby these young officers, if they think they have been dismissed unfairly, can make their complaint known, either at the front or better still here at home. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Southampton has told the Under-Secretary that what the Under-Secretary said the other day about court-martials was not quite correct. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman now to give me some assurance on that point.


I should like to support what the hon. Member has said. In some of the cases of these officers the charges are trivial—I mean trivial, in view of the period during which they have been trained. A young officer was asked to send in his resignation in these circumstances: He had been at the front not many days when he was put in charge of a battery, and he made a mistake which led to his being sent back to this country. If he did not send in his resignation he would be gazetted out of the Service. He had never had charge of a battery before. I submit that the officers are trained in such a hurry and so insufficiently, that the only way in which a man's efficiency can be tested is that during a period sufficient for his adequate training he should, before some competent authority, be put through the duties which he is expected to discharge at the front, in order that it maybe seen that he is able to perform those duties. To ask an officer, before he has had sufficient training, to perform duties he has never discharged before, and then ask him to resign because he has made some slight mistake, is not dealing with the matter in a common-sense fashion. The officer should be sent back for more training, and should be given a further opportunity, unless he shows utter incapacity. I hope something will be done in that direction. I am rather glad to see the new Clause 4 of the Bill, which provides that absentees without leave are to be handed over to the military authorities, without being kept, as they are sometimes, two or three days in the prison cells. In one case a man had been a deserter from a regiment he had joined previously for nearly twelve months. He had joined another regiment and did excellent work at the front. When he came back he was arrested, and the officer representing his previous regiment pressed for a conviction. The magistrate, exercising his common sense, pointed out that the man had been fighting well in the other regiment for his country, and he was not going to make a victim of him. I can SCO the danger of a man, after being away from a regiment for twelve months, joining another regiment, and, on his return, being arrested and court-martialled, after he had fought well in the other regiment. In the ease to which I referred the magistrate remarked that the reason given for desertion was a good reason, if there can be, a good one for desertion. I hope something practical will be done in a case like that; otherwise, I have no objection to the Clause at all.


I wish to say a few words in support of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. He said the charge might be a trivial one, and, that being so, it seems to me a great hardship that an officer in the circumstances should be asked to tender his resignation. In one instance the charge was a serious one, the suggestion being that there was cowardice, but the boy was suffering from shock. He was asked to send in his resignation, and his father wrote to me about the matter, repudiating the charge, and asking that his son should be tried by court-martial. I brought the case before the authorities, and forwarded the letters, but I could get no redress, nor could I find means of redress. It seemed to me a case of very great hardship, but I am glad that this matter has been brought up and I hope something will be done.


I desire to refer to a curious case which has been brought to my notice. It is that of a second-lieutenant on probation who has been eight months in the trenches and is still in the same rank. He has most favourable records, and commended by his superior officers. There are no complaints against him, and he is, I believe, an exemplary officer. He belongs to the 36th Division of the Ulster Division. I do not know whether they are kept longer without promotion in that division than in others, but as it is the only case of the kind I have beard of I should be obliged for an explanation.


With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for West Waterford (Mr. O'Shee), I am afraid that is hardly within the scope of this Bill. I would volunteer the suggestion that the delay in this officer being made a substantive second-lieutenant from being a probationer may be due to the fact that in the battalion to which he has been gazetted there has been no vacancy so far. I came across to-day, for example, the case of a very gallant second-lieutenant, the son of a Member of this House. He has been in France for nineteen months. With regard to the point criticised by the hon. and gallant Member for Southampton (General Philipps). and the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield (Major Newman), and the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. T. Wilson), namely, the necessity for having a Court of Inquiry in particular cases in the Army, that question was raised and I replied to it—not very fully, it is true-in the Debate on the Army Estimates. I told my hon. Friends, who have got experience of the Army, and know its ramifications and its established discipline, and I think they will both agree with me, that whatever we might be able to do in days of peace, that at present it was unthinkable to establish any more courts during this terrible War. It is a well-known fact that you could not get the necessary officers back from France, from Egypt and elsewhere, and I am perfectly certain my hon. and gallant Friends would be the last to suggest that meanwhile in any case you could have such a Court of Inquiry. I hold the opinion that at the present time there is a court of appeal in His Majesty the King. Any officer who is wronged can always appeal to the judgment of the Court of Appeal, namely, His Majesty the King. I must again say what has struck me during my years of connection with the War Office, and very forcibly, has been the extraordinary care with which every officer's case is investigated by the members of the Army Council, and I have no doubt by the various generals and Army commanders to whom the case is brought before it goes to the Army Council. The case which the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outh-waite) brought to the notice of the House was characterised by this fact. He told us that this boy—he led the House to understand that he was merely a boy—was asked to resign his commission on account of cowardice.


I said I was not sure that it was specifically stated, but the imputation resting upon him was that of cowardice.


I do not remember all the facts of the case, but I know a great many cases of this sort have been brought to my notice where naturally anxious parents come about their sons who have been asked to resign their commissions, and when I have inquired I have found that a very humane commanding officer has told a boy to send in his resignation and that the only alternative is a court-martial.


But in this case they asked for a trial.


There is always a means of redress under Sections 42 and 13, which make it perfectly plain that where any wrong is suffered by any officer he can always complain to the Army Council. An officer in the Army ought to know what are the rights of an officer and of a soldier, because the soldier is dependent upon the knowledge of the officer. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for North-East Lanark (Mr. Duncan Millar), I made it perfectly clear in my speech that the very causes of delay which he hoped this Bill would obviate will be obviated by this Bill. As I pointed out', the real intention of one of the new Clauses is not to allow the soldier to be kept in prison or to go into the dock or appear before the magistrates, but that he should be sent, as soon as telephonic or telegraphic communication can be entered into with the nearest military depot, to that depot and not to prison.


Does that mean that the nearest military depot in every ease will take charge of the accused until the guard of his own unit conies to take him?

11.0 P.M.


It is not expressly stated there, but I know that the intention is to keep the soldier away from the Civil Court and prison, and naturally enough the very first thing that the officer in charge would do would be to communicate with the nearest military depot and he would be sent to the nearest barracks until he could be taken over by his own unit. In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) who was rather afraid, as I understood, of the importance of certain words in Clause 5, it is perfectly plain, if you read these two new Sub-sections together, that they do not deprive any soldier who may be apprehended or arrested of the protection of a Civil Court. The Section to which he drew my particular attention merely obviates the necessity of the soldier who makes the arrest having to go probably to France or Ireland to give evidence that he made the arrest. In other words, as I said in my opening speech, it is merely a extension of the Documentary Evidence Act, namely, that the production to the court of trial of a certificate, signed by the soldier as to what took place, is sufficient proof of the fact of the arrest. The only other point to which I should like to allude is the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey) and the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and I was very glad that both of them realised the fact that the War Office had fulfilled its promise. I promised at the end of last year to see that a new system of the administration of field punishment No. I should be introduced, and both my hon. Friends here acknowledge that we have done this, and that, so far as they know, there is no ground for complaint now of that needless cruelty and suffering which in the earlier days was inflicted upon these unfortunate men. I am not going to say that I would be successful, however anxious or willing I might be, in any attempt to do what was wished; but my hon. Friend made a slight error by saying that all the high commands in France were anxious that that punishment should be abolished.


I said "some." I know that opinion differed in France. I understood that in the higher commands some were in favour and the majority against.


My Noble Friend and I have made inquiries from the higher commands in all the theatres of war, and there is only one which advocated its abolition. The others were in favour of it. I have discussed this subject at considerable length, and I hope I have convinced the House that those in the Army are not anxious to keep up this punishment. We are however, in the position of having a gigantic Army and having to make a disciplined forced in a minimum of time, and it would be very ill-advised on our part if we were, in the interests of discipline in this Army, to abolish the punishment altogether. In the interests of humanity, however, we desire that it should be carried out without any needless torture. I am hopeful that my hon. Friend will see that we did our level best, and will not press me in Committee to produce any such words.


Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to see if it is possible to find such words? I very much hope he will make the effort.


I will certainly promise that, but I cannot promise anything further. I will see what can be done in the direction my hon. Friend desires. With the permission of Mr. Speaker I should like to take the first opportunity of contradicting the statement which has been made to the House by the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing). The House will remember that I was asked some time ago—on 13th March—what our casualties were in France among our airmen, and my statement then was that The average casualties per week for the last six weeks are: killed. 7–6; wounded, 8–3: missing. 4/"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th March, 1917. col. 887, Vol. XCI.] It is quite clear that I never used the word "percentage." These words are plain upon the face of it. If you take the average of six weeks, the average number of men killed in one week was 7.6, of wounded men 8.3, of missing men 4.2. I find that the same day the hon. Member said—and I think it has been repeated to-night— It means we haw lost in six weeks 20 per cent. of our men, because the total comes to 20–2 per cent. of the personnel of the Air Service IT Means that if this goes on in this way then in six weeks the whole Air Service will be wiped out, That is rather an alarming statement."—[OFFICIAL]. [(REPORT, 13th March. 19l7, col. 1048, Vol. XCI.] I thought it my duty, in view of his repeating the statement to-night. to take the first opportunity of contradicting him. I never said any such thing, and I am perfectly certain, when my hon. Friend realises the great distinction between what I myself said and what he pretends that I said, he will take the first opportunity of withdrawing. I think that I have met every point raised, and I hope the House will now give us the Second Reading of this Bill.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Adjourned accordingly at Wight minutes after Eleven o'clock.