HC Deb 17 April 1918 vol 105 cc417-9

For Sub-section (9) of Section one hundred and fifty-six of the Army Act, the following Sub-section shall be substituted: (9) Every person who—

  1. (a) receives, detains or has in his possession any identity certificate, life certificate, or other certificate, or official document evidencing or issued in connection with the right of any person to a military pension pay or Reserve pay, or to any bounty, allowance, gratuity, relief, benefit or advantage granted in connection with military service, as a pledge or security for a debt, or with a view to obtain payment from the person entitled thereto of a debt due either to himself or to any other person; or
  2. (b) without lawful authority or excuse (the proof whereof shall lie on the accused) has in his possession any such certificate or document, or any certificate of discharge or any other official document issued in connection with the mobilisation or demobilisation of any of His Majesty's Forces or any member thereof,
shall be liable on summary conviction to the like penalty as for an offence under Sub-section (1) of this Section, and any such certificate or other document shall be deemed to be property within the meaning of this Section.

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

I beg to move, at the beginning of the Clause, to insert the words,

Sub-section (1) of Section one hundred and fifty-six of the Army Act (which imposes a penalty on persons purchasing from soldiers regimental necessaries. equipments, stores, etc.) shall be amended as follows:

The words from "in the case of the first offence" down to "in the case of a second offence" (both inclusive), and the words "not less than five pounds, and" shall be omitted, and at the end of the Sub-section there shall be added the words "or to both such fine and imprisonment."

Section 156 of the Army Act, Sub-section (1), makes it an offence for any person to purchase or receive from soldiers or on their behalf regimental necessaries, equipment, stores, and so on, unless the said articles are ordered by the military authority. The penalty for an offence under this Section is, for the first offence, a fine not exceeding £20, together with treble the value of the property involved; and for a subsequent offence a fine of not less than £5 and not exceeding £20, together with treble the value of the property involved, or imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding six months. In a recent prosecution, which I have no doubt hon. Members noticed in the Press, regarding certain property of the value of considerably over £200, the magistrate expressed the opinion that the penalty provided by this particular Section was utterly inadequate, and that the person accused should be liable to imprisonment. The Director of Public Prosecutions entirely agreed with the view expressed by the learned magistrate, and it is now proposed to amend the Section to provide that all offenders shall be liable to a fine of £20, together with treble the value of the goods, or to six months' imprisonment with or without hard labour, or to both such fine and imprisonment. We feel, in view of the statement expressed by the magistrate—and the magistrates of London always take a very lenient view of the cases against soldiers, particularly soldiers who have served in France—that we ought to take such action; consequently, I ask the Committee to accept this Amendment.


I do not think this is necessary. It may lead to considerable injustice. If hon. Members will turn to the Army Act, Section 156—without which Act it is quite impossible to follow the question before the Committee or the proceedings on this Bill—they will see that the property which will come under this Clause includes such things as "regimental necessaries, or clothing, or any military decollations of an officer or soldier," and a number of other things. It is a regimental necessary for a man to have a badge. Badges are being sold every day. There are many shops where they are exposed for sale. I might pick up a badge in the street. Boys often pick up badges in the street and offer them to one another. You are launching in this connection on possibilities of conviction which would be very unjust, and you are adding to the penalty which may be inflicted. It is very often difficult in this connection to say what is part of a soldier's clothing, equipment, regimental necessaries, and so forth. He may buy duplicates. They may be his private property. They may be the property of another person who lends them to the soldier. I cannot quite agree that there is any necessity for increasing the penalties under this Act simply because in one case a London magistrate said some thing about a case in which he felt unable to give an adequate punishment. I think we ought to have some justification before we accept this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.