- (a) Where any officer or soldier after his complaint has been inquired into under Section forty-two or Section forty-three of the Act and the decision thereon has been communicated to him, and where such officer or soldier still considers that he has not had the redress to which he may consider himself entitled, such officer or soldier may appeal to the Military Court of Appeal and such Court shall examine into such complaint and shall issue its finding accordingly and forward the same to the Army Council, who shall communicate such finding to the complainant and shall take such steps as are necessary for giving full redress to the complainant in respect of the wrong complained of in so far as the finding of the Military Court of Appeal directs.
- (b) A Military Court of Appeal, consisting of five, shall be appointed by His Majesty, of whom any three shall form a quorum. Two of such members shall be military officers, two shall be persons not holding any official position under the Crown, and one shall be one of His Majesty's judges of the High Court of Justice. —[General Sir Ivor Philipps.]
§ Brought up, and read the first time.
§ Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
I beg to move "That the Clause be read a second time"
I wish to draw special attention to Sections 42 and 43 of the Army (Annual) Act. Those two Sections are what I have described as the Officers' and Soldiers' Charter. They are the sole concession in the Act to the officers' and soldiers' right 432 of justice. Section 42 deals with officers and Section 43 with soldiers. An officer, if he feels that he has been wronged, may appeal through his senior commanding officer—generals and so on—to the Army Council, and if the Army Council does not give him the redress he requires he may appeal to His Majesty. That, in fact, results in the Army Council being the sole judge, because, as we all know, it really does not go any further. As far as the soldier goes, he is only allowed to go to the Army Council. Now the soldier—when I use the word "soldier" in future I mean officer and soldier—has got no right of appeal because he can only appeal to his superior officer, and beyond that he is helpless and hopeless, and the Army Council have consistently refused any redress. Since the War there have been appeals from all sides of the House for justice for this man or for that, and on every single occasion, except two, which I am going to mention, we have been told from that bench that you cannot deal with these matters in war, but that you must trust the soldier. I wish to say straight away that if I believed these matters rested with my hon. Friend sitting on that bench I believe there would be no necessity for the new Clause I am now putting forward, but we know in these matters he is helpless equally with the soldier or the officer who is wronged. He is only the humble servant—he cannot be anything else—of a Secretary of State whom we do not trust [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh…"] Well, I will say he is a Secretary of State whom I do not trust. The present Secretary of State is simply nothing more than the spokesman of the Army Council. I do not believe he directs its policy at all. He simply is the spokesman for the military element of the Army Council. Fortunately, during this War for a short period, we had a democratic Secretary of State for War, and let us see what happened in that short time. It was only the case of a second-lieutenant of a Welsh Regiment who had been wronged—foully wronged—and we had a democratic Secretary of State for War, the present Prime Minister.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
Interruptions make it rather difficult for me to proceed. I am not so accustomed to a stream of con- 433 stant interruptions as the hon. Member is. It was only, as I was saying, a second-lieutenant of a Welsh Regiment who was foully wronged, and I can only reconstruct what took place in the Army Council. When the Secretary of State for War said that a Court of Inquiry must be held, the reply would be, "Oh, no; you cannot have a Court of Inquiry. You see, it is war-time." To that the rejoinder was, "I do not care whether it is or not. Besides, you have civilians implicated in this, and you cannot have a Court of Inquiry on civilians." Said the Secretary of State for War, "If that is the only difficulty, I will get the House of Commons to pass an Act," and a special Bill was brought in to try to save this young second-lieutenant whom the Army Council were foully wronging. What was the result of bringing in the Act? Under that Act, for the first time in the history of the Army, a Court of Inquiry was allowed to be set up on which there was a civilian appointed—a civilian judge. Because a civilian was implicated in this charge, and might suffer under any decision a Court of Inquiry came to, the Army Courts (Inquiry) Act, 1914, was set up and an inquiry took place under the Act.
The decision of that Court of Inquiry made some of the saddest reading that has ever been put upon the records of the Army Council. These are some of the sentences that appeared in the decision: "Treated this young officer unjustly"; "an unusual and unfair proceeding without any investigation"; "severe reprobation"; want of consideration and humanity"; "acted hastily, harshly and improperly"; "denied justice"; "not merely indiscretion, but a departure from official propriety." And who were these people who were found fault with? A colonel, two Commanders-in-Chief, a member of the Army Council—the judges, in fact, who were trying this man previous to this special Court being set up. No wonder the Army Council told my hon. Friend to go down to the House and say, "No inquiries during the War." I should think not… If that is their experience in one inquiry, God help them if they have a dozen… How many times have we been told by the hon. Member, "No inquiry during the war"?—no justice during the War—and you have 7,250,000 soldiers working under you to whom you deny justice. Would they were represented in 434 this House by eighty Members, like the Irish are—misguided Irishmen, if you like—who come down here to represent some 4,000,000 or less, whereas these are 7,000,000 men for whom I am speaking to-day. There was one other occasion when that bench has promised an inquiry. To whom? Perhaps the hon. Member does not even know. He is a distinguished and gallant and an honourable man, who is a great general, who has been promised an inquiry, who has been promised justice, but he has failed, and the Prime Minister comes here and almost apologises to this House for removing him from his command, and says he will give him an inquiry.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is very unfair. We are dealing now with legislation, and we must not introduce administrative matters. He might do justice, as he desires to claim it.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I bow to your ruling, and regret I should have been carried away in the way I have. Of course, I will not touch on that again, but will follow your advice absolutely. But it is because I feel that it is not possible for the present War Office to treat this matter administratively that I am urging legislation should be passed. I hope that in that part of my remarks which did not call down your censure, Mr. Whitley, I have made out a good case for the Clause which I ask the Committee to pass. All that it does is this: When all redress of a wrong has been denied by the Army Council, the individual wronged can appeal to this Court of Appeal which I propose that this Bill should set up. I suggest—of course, this is a mere matter of discussion—that the Court should consist of two military officers, two civilians, and one High Court judge. I think I have shown that in the one case where we have been allowed a Court of Inquiry great benefit accrued to the young officer concerned in having a civilian element in the Court of Inquiry, and that is really what I have wished to press, if I have been carried away further than I should have been.
On several occasions I have ventured to raise this question, and I think it must be admitted that, having regard to the number of cases of the kind which have cropped up during the last few years, the War Office should do something to accede to the request made this 435 afternoon. I am not prepared to say whether this Clause is the right way to carry it out, but I do submit that some machinery of this kind is absolutely needed. Before the Army Council was set up, an officer had the right of appeal to the Commander-in-Chief. The Army Council is one of the greatest anachronisms of modern times. The matters are not considered by the Army Council, but relegated to some general at the War Office, and therefore it is essential, if confidence is to be maintained, when officers feel they have been wilfully wronged, that there should be some Court of Appeal of this kind.
My hon. Friend opposite gave us a case which, I think, was a very flagrant one, and which shows the necessity of introducing some civilian element into a Court for dealing with these matters. During the last few months many other cases have arisen. We have often debated the merits or demerits of Colonel Monteagle Browne. This is not a good thing for the discipline or moral of the Army, and it would have been very much better if such a case could have gone before an Appeal Tribunal of the kind suggested, in the interests of the Army itself, and in the interests of its moral and discipline. Having regard to the extraordinarily rapid growth of the Army in the last four years, and the fact that we have so many men fighting on the various fronts, it is inevitable there should be cases of hardship, and it is desirable to have a Court of Appeal of this kind, which would hear what officers had to say in their own defence, and mete out justice to them. I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War will not turn this Amendment down, but will give us some assurance that some satisfactory arrangement will be made as soon as may be, so that it may no longer be said that an officer in the British Army is not heard in his own defence, and has no real chance of putting his case before the War Office authorities.
§ Mr. HOGGE
When I raised this question on a previous occasion, Lord Derby, subsequently to the Debate, invited me to the War Office to discuss the point with him. It is only fair to say that the Secretary for War preserves an open mind with regard to this question. I discussed it with him for two or three hours one night, and I had the same complaints to make about the War Office as the hon. 436 and gallant Member opposite has made this afternoon. Lord Derby then showed me the various processes through which appeals went, and I was convinced to a large extent that there is a case for the War Office, although I am not satisfied any more than my hon. and gallant Friend opposite that all that can be done has been done, and that there is no necessity for this Court of Appeal. I should like to add, in fairness to the Secretary for War that, as the result of the conversation, he said to me that if a Court of Inquiry could be established which would meet the case, he personally would not stand in the way of its creation. The hon. and gallant Member who raised this point illustrated his arguments by one or two cases which are notorious, but I rather gathered that he, like the rest of us, is not so much concerned about the notorious cases as about the average case which frequently occurs.
I suppose most Members of this House, in their relations with their constituents and in other ways, have had brought to their notice cases particularly affecting young officers, lieutenants, and second-lieutenants, I, myself, in the course of the last three years, have had cases brought to me by men holding the rank of lieutenant who have been sent home from the front from some alleged fault, and who have felt the injustice of being so treated so much that in most cases they have refused to resign and have been gazetted out of the Army. In such cases what happens is that that man, who thinks he is refused a fair trial, is consequently compelled as an honourable man to allow himself to be dismissed from the Army, immediately becomes eligible under the Military Service Act and liable to be conscripted as a private soldier. I know that that has happened in the case of the son of an ex-Member of this House who is also the Lord Mayor of one of the biggest cities in the country. The son, before the War, was partner in one of the biggest business firms in this country. He was dismissed from his post in the Army on account of an alleged fault which he considered he had never committed, and because he could not get his case before a Court of Inquiry he refused to do anything in the matter, and was ultimately dismissed from the Service. This was a man who had willingly volunteered for the Army, and this was the indignity which was heaped upon him. He is now 437 subject to the Military Service Act, and has been conscripted as a private soldier. That shows how ridiculous the present position is. I would say this, that the War Office, which primarily is concerned with pursuing the War, should not be deflected from that work in order to consider the case of every one who desires to bring a matter by way of appeal before it. But why should the right be denied to the average case which is conceded to the extraordinary case? An officer who is a Member of this House lost some dispatches in the Mediterranean. He has succeeded in getting a Court of Inquiry. I doubt if he would have done that if he had not been a Member of this House.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Many attempts have been made unsuccessfully by men who have desired to go before a Court of Inquiry, but because they have not occupied the position of the hon. and gallant Member opposite they have been refused permission to do so, and the hon. and gallant Member was only able to secure the Court of Inquiry because he was not unable to say something either on his feet or sitting in his seat. At any rate, he got the Court of Inquiry in. order to clear himself. Hundreds of other men cannot get such Courts of Inquiry. And I am using his case in order to support their claim. I ask the hon. and gallant Member opposite, Why not relieve the War Office of this particular work? Why not create a separate Department of the War Office and set up an Appeal Court on which there could sit men who are not concerned in the active prosecution of the War and whose duty it should be to deal out justice to aggrieved officers?
§ Mr. HOGGE
Yes; to all soldiers of whatever rank At present men feel that nothing which is written can do their case full justice. Their opinion is that if they could be heard personally before a Court, if they had an opportunity of being examined and cross-examined, if they could thus get to the root of the business, instead of their case being merely dependent on the written evidence of a superior officer or somebody else, then they would have a chance of getting justice. I think that chance ought to be granted to these men. I do not see why 438 it could not be done. If done, it would relieve Members of this House of a great deal of trouble. The Under-Secretary for War knows what the trouble is. I suppose the bulk of the Members of this House receive many letters on behalf of aggrieved men and have personal interviews in regard to cases of this nature, and if we were put in the position of telling these people that it is of no use our raising their cases in the House of Commons because a Court has been set up with the approval of the House of Commons which by reason of its composition will be able to look at matters not merely from the military but also from a civilian point of view, if we could tell people who apply to us that we will got them to that Court and there they must make good their own case, our responsibility would end there, and the House would be relieved of a great deal of trouble and inconvenience. After all, it is not fair for us to bring these cases to the Under-Secretary of War. The only reason why we do so is that he is the usual channel of communication between the authorities and the House. But we do not want to give him all this trouble. We want to give these aggrieved men access to a live body, instead of leaving their cases decided on documentary evidence only, and if the Under-Secretary for War can see his way to promise that that can be done he will not only be doing justice to these men, but he will also be relieving the War Office of a considerable amount of pressure, and the men themselves will feel that they have a chance of justice which has not previously been accorded to them.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
While I do not commit myself to the actual wording of the proposed Clause, I do support it in principle. I wish to dissociate myself from what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite in reference to the Secretary for War. On these questions, as well as on all other questions, I have brought before him, the Secretary for War has shown as much consideration for officers and soldiers as any man in his position could possibly have shown. I urge the principle contained in this Clause because I am convinced it would do nothing to prejudice or interfere with that military discipline and good order which is the object of the Army Act. I would like myself to have every soldier 439 and officer loving the term of service he has the honour to enjoy while he is in the Service, and loving the Army and its traditions when he is ultimately demobilised. I am convinced that this Clause meets a grievance which, though not widespread in reference to numbers, is universally spread throughout the Service in reference to knowledge. I do not believe that the great majority of men who are dealt with harshly by their superiors, even to the point of being cashiered or discharged, are ordinarily cases with which we should have sympathy, but there are numbers—and in the large Army we have they are a considerable number—of cases where—not, I submit, with ill-intention of the superior who has to deal with them, but owing to bad judgment, want of knowledge, or the need of giving a decision at the moment—the career of an officer or man may be ruined, a grievance not centred in the officer or man but one which spreads throughout the Service with which he is connected, and is by him spread to the civilian population at home to the detriment of the Army. It is because of the interests of the Army, the good order, discipline, and affection which I believe is the great characteristic of the majority of those who serve in it, that I urge the acceptance of this, or some similar Clause, on the Government. I venture to say that the constant use in this House and the newspapers of the alleged right of appeal to His Majesty the King does His Majesty a great injustice. It is a mere form. There was a time in our history when the King did personally sign every commission to an officer, and even now an officer has the right of entry to a lévee to meet His Majesty the King. In these vast organisations which we have so splendidly built up in the British Empire, however, to bring in constantly the name of the King as the ultimate arbiter of every one of the thousands of officers who have through this War been dealt with, as they think, harshly is to do a great disservice to the head of the State. I think it might be made clear that the ultimate decision in this matter does not rest on the overburdened Monarch of this Realm.
I hope we are able to convince the War Office that those who support this do it in the interests of the Army. Any decision that may be come to by this particular Committee set up ought to be a decision that would not mean the bringing 440 out of the fighting line of any officer or man involved. I do not believe in the Committee which corresponds to a civil Court. I believe in one that will sift the evidence, come to a decision, and if any officer or soldier has been wronged will do its best to right the wrong without interfering with the military machinery from which the wrong emerged by dealing without any harshness whatever with those officers or non-commissioned officers on whose primary reports somebody's career may have been ruined or harshly treated. As to the argument that we have not the-time during the War, the War has lasted into the fourth year, and there is no one who can say it will not last into another four years. We have now in the country a number of people who could undertake work of this kind, and a good strong committee could be set up. It would add to the moral of the Army and would make the humblest soldier and the most distinguished general feel that he had that right of appeal which is denied to him now, but which is still allowed to those who shirk their responsibilities as civilians.
§ General HICKMAN
I think this alteration should be made only for so long as the Army is so much enlarged, and that it might even help the Adjutant-General and the Staff of the War Office if there were some kind of Appeal Tribunal. I do not know whether the mover of this Amendment is aware of the very large number of cases that are tried for different offences at the present time in the New Army. There are a very large number of disciplinary cases, and I think, perhaps, it would help the Adjutant-General if there were something of this sort, although I am perfectly convinced that under the old Army conditions it was not at all necessary, because officers did get justice with a full and even hand. I would, therefore, recommend to my hon. Friend in charge of this Bill that if he does feel inclined to give way and accept this Amendment he should qualify it with another Amendment that this provision should only last so long as the Military Service Acts are in operation.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have no reason at all to complain of the tone and temper of this discussion. I realise that my hon. and gallant Friends who have spoken on this feel very strongly about it, and this is not the first occasion upon which I myself have had to stand at this box and reply to arguments put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment 441 (General Ivor Phillihps) and by the various hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate. Before I deal with the arguments which have been adduced I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend who sits opposite to me (General Sir I. Philipps), and who is always so courteous, would expect me to leave one sentence of his speech without one remark. I refer to the attack made by my hon. and gallant Friend on the Secretary of State for War. I notified that he began by saying that we in this House distrusted him, but that my hon. and gallant Friend was afterwards cautious enough to say that it was he himself who distrusted him.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think I am only expressing the opinion of this House which was voiced by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last, an opinion enforced by the specific example brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) when I say that it is not the opinion of the House of Commons. I have now for a long time worked with my Noble Friend the Secretary of State, and I know of no person in any high office under the Crown who has performed his work with more conspicuous faithfulness, or who has been more loved by all those serving under him. I venture also to think that he is beloved by the whole of His Majesty's forces, and I am sorry to think that my hon. and gallant Friend should have made that remark about him. My hon. and gallant Friend began his speech in pressing the adoption of this Clause, by remarking, quite properly, I think, that there were two sections in the Army Act which might be regarded as the soldiers' charter. I am using the word "soldier" in the large sense. These two Sections were Section 42 and Section 43 of the Army Act. I venture to think that every Member who has spoken would say exactly as my hon. and gallant Friend said, that these two Sections are regarded as charters, both of the officer and of the man. Is there a single Member of this House who has had experience of the Army who would come forward at this time of day and ask that those two Sections of the Army Act should be repealed? I venture to think that my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the 442 adoption of this Clause would be the last person in this House to say that this Clause should be repealed.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPSindicated assent.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
But I venture to say that if I were to adopt, on behalf of the Government, this Clause, I should be virtually repealing those two very Sections. It is quite obvious. I do not think I need analyse the case I am making further than this. My hon. and gallant Friend proposes to provide thatWhere any officer or soldier after his complaint has been inquired into under Sections 42 and 43 of the Act and the decision thereon has been communicated to him.What does that mean? He knows, and I think the Committee will know by this time, that every officer has a right of appeal under Section 42 of the Army Act. That Section enjoins that this appeal should go through the various stages to the Army Council. The Army Council, as an hon. Member in the course of the Debate has pointed out, need not necessarily as a whole give a decision on that appeal.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
By statute, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, three members are sufficient, but on occasion I have seen the Army Council as a whole reviewing a decision in certain cases. I have seen it recently, but by statute, as I just said, three members of the Army Council are a properly constituted Court of Appeal, and they can review the case of any soldier who under Section 42 has taken the proper course and appealed. That appeal goes to the King. That is the Supreme Court of Appeal.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Certainly… I am only dealing with the case of an officer, and my hon. and gallant Friend only dealt with the case of an officer. After that appeal has been reviewed by the Army Council it will be reviewed by His Majesty, who will be pleased to give his decision on the subject. That is the Court of Appeal. The idea is prevalent in certain quarters of this House, but not in all quarters, that the Army Council, and particularly the three members chosen to deal with these cases, treat them in a slipshod fashion. I have been one of the three for a long time, and I can assure my 443 hon. Friends that I take as much pains and so do my colleagues in reviewing these cases as I would in the case of my dearest friend. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Major David Davies) said these cases were relegated to an overworked general-He knows as well as I do that there is not a word of truth in that statement. Three members of the Army Council invariably examine these cases, and, speaking for myself—and I know that in this I can speak for those who co-operate with me—I can say that in every case we treat them with every care, and go into them meticulously.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Not at all; they never have so far as I know. That is not the fault of the Army Council. The Army Council, so far as its powers as a reviewing body are concerned, takes the place of the old Commander-in-Chief, and that was passed, if I mistake not, by a Liberal Government.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am dealing with that very point. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend would give me a little time. In the old days the Commander-in-Chief gave a personal interview to any officer who felt he had been wronged, and he personally presented his case. That was the old law, but it was changed on the institution of the Army Council. That old law was done away with, and the procedure which is adumbrated in Section 42 of the Army Act is the procedure adopted, as I said, by the House. As I say, I cannot for the world see why the Army Council should be blamed if it exercises, with such care as I have pointed out it does exercise, those powers, and why it should be blamed because it is the Army Council and not the Commander-in-Chief. These powers have been vested in the Army Council by this House of Commons. It exercises in the best way it can the powers which have been vested in it. I think it will interest the Committee to know that we have had many hundreds of these appeals, and I am quite certain that I am right in saying that the appeals are in the main for inefficiency. I should think 90 per cent. of the appeals are for inefficiency. The remaining per- 444 centage probably might include such appeals as appeals on questions of pay or breach of Army rules, or some other reason of that sort. What does the hon. and gallant Gentleman propose? He proposes that we should have a Court of Appeal. If he wishes this new Clause to remain in the Army Act, what will be the result? My hon. and gallant Friend seems to forget that there is no contract on the part of the officer with the Government, and that the officer receives his commission from the King, and from the King alone. All powers over that commission are vested in His Majesty's hands, and naturally enough in all such cases the papers must be signed by the King. This new Clause seeks to provide that after the matter involved has been inquired into under Section 42 of the Act and the decision has been communicated to the officer and—and be it remembered, that decision is only communicated to him after submission to the King—after, I say, the King has decided upon the advice of the Army Council that a certain man should lose his commission, another Court of Appeal should beset up in order to overthrow the decision come to.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
The hon. Gentleman will not think that I am interrupting him, but I may say that I never intended any such thing as he suggests. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman choosing a quibble of this sort, which is a legal quibble. I am not a lawyer; I am a soldier.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
Will you allow me to go on, please? You appealed to me. You have picked out one particular point which, of course, anybody drafting this, who was a lawyer, would have picked out. You have put the appeal between the Army-Council and the King. It is because I respect His Majesty so greatly that I oppose this scheme. The appeal ought to go to His Majesty, not on the recommendation of the Army Council—which I do not trust—but on the recommendation of an Appeal Tribunal—which I do trust. I trust the hon. Gentleman in thinking this matter over will see that he is not fair, that he is trying to make, as a lawyer, this technical, legal, feeble quibble which a soldier would not do.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I only asked my hon. and gallant Friend whether he did or not agree with what I was putting forward.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I did not wish to go into Section 43. You picked out one point where this does apply.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am simply stating the case, and I am trying to argue it as it appears best to me. It may be a lawyer's quibble, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman chooses to regard it so; but I regard it otherwise. I have, first of all, got his admission that he does not wish to get rid of Section 43. I, therefore, do not touch that Section, but I say that these two things are absolutely inconsistent. Let me deal with the cases he mentioned. I have pointed out that 90 per cent. of these cases were inefficiency cases. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has served in the Army, and he knows perfectly well what happens. I have stated to the House, time and again, that in a question of the soldier's efficiency the sole criterion must be opinion. It is not a question of fact at all, and the commanding officer is the man responsible for the efficiency of the regiment. He must judge, and his opinion must be the criterion. I can only assure my hon. and gallant Friends that in a matter of this sort I would as soon trust the judgment of the Army as of anyone else.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Almost invariably. Not on a point of law, but on a point of discipline, which is a somewhat difficult point. When we talk of efficiency, of what are we thinking? We are simply taking that view with regard to the man who is the best judge of a man's efficiency, and that is the commanding officer of the man. In this matter of opinion we go straight up through each state—brigadier, divisional commander, corps commander, army commander, and Field Marshal Commander-in-Chief. After that we come to the Army Council. Where it is a question of military opinion you could not possibly have a better Court than that. I am not dealing with question of facts, which are dealt with by court-martial. I have said to the House before, and I repeat, that in the case of a civil employer and an employé that the former can say to the latter, "I believe you to be inefficient, go…" It is not regarded as un-reasonable to accept the opinion of that 446 employer, and what is there against such being extended, so far as efficiency is concerned, in relation to the Army?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It may be as my hon. Friend suggests, but I am not going to deal with that particular point. What I say is that my statement of the case suggests a correct analogy from my point of view. It is my conviction that the Army, as a whole, do regard the present criterion as the proper criterion. I do not know that there is any particular point further which was raised, but I quite agree, as my 'hon. and gallant Friend has said, that there is a feeling in the country that there may be something wrong. But then you are dealing at the present time with a colossal Army, in the midst of tremendously difficult circumstances. I, for one, should hesitate to interfere with any section dealing with the discipline of the Army. While I am quite willing to make a careful representation of all the statements that have been made in this House to-day to my military advisers, I cannot hold out any hope at the present time, and conditions being as they are, that we can in any way alter the present system. If I can gather military opinion aright—and I have a fair opportunity of gathering it—it is thought that the time may come, whenever peace arrives—and I hope that may be soon—when the consideration which has been advanced by hon. Members this afternoon must be considered. I trust that my hon. and gallant Friend will not press me to accept this Clause, because I do not wish to do so, and, indeed, cannot. I hope with that assurance he will not press his Amendment.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I confess that I listened very carefully to the speech of the Under-Secretary for War. There may be very good reasons why some such Clause as this should not be accepted, but the hon. Gentleman certainly did not put them before the House of Commons. The only points he has made refer to in- 447 efficiency and discipline. I will deal with those in a moment, though I cannot see why, in the case of inefficiency or lack of discipline in the Army, some sort of Court, as proposed to be set up, need in any way interfere with these two very important things. The House of Commons must remember that at the present time we are dealing with a very different Army to the Army in existence when these Regulations 42 and 43 were passed by this House. When these Sections were passed the sum total of our armed forces of all sorts was between 400,000 and 500,000 men. Now we have an Army running into millions. In the old days you had boys from eighteen to twenty-five as the bulk of your small Army. Now we have got all the youth of the country; we are taking the middle-aged, and even some old men. You must remember that their ideas of liberty and justice are, obviously, very different from the ideas of a boy of eighteen or twenty in the previous time. They have been accustomed to open Courts; they have been accustomed to Courts of Appeal, and to the normal procedure of civil life; therefore, when they are taken into the Army and find that with the best intentions—I am not making any charge against any officers, or the War Office, or anyone else—their cases are judged by a nebulous body called the Army Council, which sits at the War Office, and about which they know nothing, about whose sittings and discussions they know nothing, before whom they are not able to put their case, there is a widespread feeling amongst them that they are not getting justice. I hope the Under-Secretary will not think that I am saying that they do not, in 95, or even more, per cent. of the cases get justice. But the feeling amongst these men is that they do not know what have been the grounds of the decision reached—whether their papers have been considered This is a bad thing for the moral of the Army—this feeling that a man does not know who is the judge in his case. Surely it is the inherent right of every Englishman, if he is accused of any offence, he should have personally an opportunity of putting his case before the body of people who are appointed to judge him. Even in the case of interned aliens, we have set up a body outside the House who take the utmost care to allow the alien to put his own story in his own way, and surely the justice which you 448 give to the interned alien ought to be given to officers and men in His Majesty's Forces who are fighting so gallantly.
With regard to efficiency, I understood the argument was that no civilian could judge military efficiency, and therefore the idea of having civilian members on the Court of Appeal should be ruled out. Take the Admiralty Courts. There are civilian members on those Courts, and they have nautical assistants to advise them on technical points. Why could this not be done in the case of the Courts which are to be set up? In all military Courts the civilian members would be only too glad to have the judgment of distinguished generals on certain points. As regards discipline. I would ask what is there against discipline in allowing a man to put his case before a Court properly set up to judge whether he has been guilty of an offence or not. That is only common justice which ought to be given to every Englishman. Then the hon. Member argued that you cannot make a change of this kind in the middle of a War. If the War Cabinet can spare enough time to set up the framework of a Home Rule Bill, surely it can find time to set up a Court such as we have indicated.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
There seems to be three classes of cases which require consideration. The first is the case in which a soldier or officer has been convicted by his commanding officer for some offence entirely within the purview of that officer. That is discipline pure and simple, and I should be 10th to see any civilian interference in any form with the power of commanding officers over the officers in their regiment in regard to questions such as that. I am not sure that the present appeal to the King under Section 42 or 43 is very effective, for it merely means the decision of a section of the Army Council. I should have thought it would be much better to have a tribunal of officers to consider questions of that kind. With regard to courts-martial, it has been my fate since the War began to appear on several occasions before general courts-martial, and they are well conducted, and very fair and efficient tribunals. I am not quite sure that in time of war it would be desirable to institute any form of Court of Appeal from the decisions of courts-martial. At a court-martial a man has a right to be represented. The evidence is given on 449 oath, and the procedure is determined and is strictly followed, and in my experience the accused received a patient and fair trial. Therefore, I am not sure that I should encourage appeals in such cases, and I would not institute any Court of Appeal from the decisions of courts-martial.
With regard to the constitution of Courts of Army Inquiry, I do think an alteration is required there, and it is required soon. Just think what is a Court of Army Inquiry. The accused has no right to be represented, and no notification is given to him before the Court of Inquiry is opened as to what the offence is with which he is to be charged. I know a case where an officer was charged with a very serious offence. He was told that he was to attend the Court of Inquiry without the least notice, and it was not until he got there that a very serious charge was made. The officers accused are very often persons with little experience of legal proceedings, and they have to do the best they can, and the utmost concession made to them is that they may have some legal friend to sit by them and prompt them. What happens? At the particular Court of Inquiry which I have in mind the case was adjourned. The Court intimated that the evidence was unsatisfactory as it stood, and that they must have the evidence of some officer from France. There was no further evidence taken at all in that case, and although they stated that they considered the evidence quite inconclusive and unsatisfactory, being unable to obtain the evidence from France, they reported on the evidence they had, and the officer was deprived of his commission.
If you are going to have a case where, on the report of the Army Inquiry, the Army Council may act as they did in that case, in which they acted partly on the representations of the Army inquiries, and partly on the information they had gathered, I submit very strongly that you should do one of two things. You should either draft new Regulations, or the Courts of Army Inquiry should be consonant with the procedure of courts-martial, which would be more in accordance with the ideas of English justice, or else you could set up some Court of Appeal. I do not suggest that every case should come under appeal. You might provide a safeguard that leave should be given to appeal by 450 the Judge Advocate-General, or a judge in chambers, but there should be something of that kind before a man is allowed ipso facto to appeal. There should be some remedy open to a man, and, at present, there is none, against whom a report has been made by an Army inquiry, at which he has had no right of representation, and which is certainly not carried out under strict rules of procedure. Surely that could be done during the War? In all cases where a man has been dealt with by the commanding officer it should be in relation to questions of discipline, but when you elect to give a man a trial at all it should be in accordance with the procedure of courts-martial, or else you should reframe your rules for Army Court inquiries, and you must give a man some right of appeal to a properly constituted tribunal. When the Judge Advocate-General, or a judge in chambers, certifies that he considers the Army inquiry has not been satisfactorily held, then the man should have a right to appear before a court-martial, and at present he has no such right. If it is obvious that a man has not received a proper trial, he should have a right to be reheard before a properly constituted Court.
This is a matter which should be carried out during the War. It is no good saying you will leave this matter over, because you are appointing Committees and Commissions every day. If you were to read some of these cases, one cannot help being shocked, not by the want of good intentions on behalf of the Court, but at their decisions. A Court of Army inquiry is set up by the colonel, and they have nothing but a very imperfectly drafted set of rules to guide them, and, consequently, it very often happens that the man does not get a fair trial. That is wrong, even during war, and you should set up this Court of Appeal, or else give the man a right of appeal to a court-martial. I beg the Under-Secretary to consider this procedure as regards Army Court inquiries, and surely the remedy is simple and could be applied now?
§ Colonel ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
I find myself in disagreement with most members of the Committee on this question, and my experience is that the men get fair play. Officers and men in the Army know what they are in for. There are certain elaborate rules of procedure, and 451 complaints are taken first by the commanding officer. I have had forty years' experience in these matters, and I know of no case of injustice. I think the Army as a whole would resent this Court of Appeal, and I do not think there is the slightest use for it. If this matter were put to the vote of the officers and men, I feel sure they would oppose it.
§ Mr. W. ROCH
The Committee is indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend for introducing the subject contained in this Amendment. While I have not had the forty years' experience of the hon. and gallant Gentleman below me (Colonel Anstruther-Gray), I am sure that many Members of the House, who have had actual cases brought before them of not undistinguished officers, though they are quite unfitted to go into the merits whether these officers have or have not been fairly dealt with, have a Feeling that they have not been fairly heard. My hon. Friend, in objecting to this Clause, produced the most extraordinary analogy. He took the case of a civilian, and said that he was under the autocratic power of his employer to dismiss him, but by the very nature of their employment—a great many civilians have an actual contract—civilians can enforce their contract in a Court of Law.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I was dealing mainly with the question of efficiency, and I said that the only criterion was not evidence, but the opinion of the commanding officer.
§ Mr. ROCH
In any case, the civilian employécan appeal to the Law Courts to say whether the employer was justified in breaking his contract. The hardship in this case is far greater than in that of the civilian employé, because a soldier, who has been the greater part of his life in the Army, by the very nature of his employment is hardly fitted for employment as a civil employé. A civil employé has the right to go into the market and seek other employment, but, unfortunately, that is not the case with the soldier. Take the case which my hon. Friend gave of his own profession. He said that in the matter of discipline it would be for his own profession to decide.
§ Mr. ROCH
Yes, but if he were not given an opportunity of putting his case 452 before the Bar Council my hon. Friend would be the first person to know that the action of the Law Courts could be invoked. The Bar Council is amenable to the law, and must act in consonance with the principle of national justice, and natural justice requires that a man shall be heard before being condemned. My hon. Friend criticised the body which my hon. and gallant Friend seeks to set up, and he said that no civilian can judge. But the very Court which judges now is partly a civilian Court. He himself is a member of the Army Council, and I think my right hon. Friend (Mr. Forster) who sits beside him is also a member. The Secretary of State for War is a member of the Army Council. That is the only body which gives a kind of appeal, and which stands between a man and absolute dismissal from the Service. I would appeal to my hon. Friend to give further consideration to this matter. I know that he is placed in a difficult position. He is placed in the War Office between generals who are wedded to an old system, and all of us who are parts of an old system believe that it has worked perfectly, and that no fault should be found with it. There is, however, a feeling by a substantial number of officers that they are not fairly treated. No one san say whether that is right or wrong. But how can my hon. Friend, a member of a great profession which stands for the tradition of justice and, above all, for the hearing of a person before he is condemned, face to face by the Court which tries him, withhold from a person who has a grievance some right of appeal to a body which will hear him?
At present the Army Council do not see the person who complains. As a general rule a written statement is put before the Army Council, and the man has no opportunity of pleading his case in person. I cannot see what injustice or harm is done if a person is given this right of appeal. If he is unfairly treated, his future is almost gone, because his chance of employment in any other profession, particularly if he is of middle age, is very small. Why should that man be refused the chance of being fairly heard? My hon. Friend should be only too pleased to think that man had no legitimate right to hold any grievance against the Army authorities. He said that it is not in the interests of discipline. Why is it not in the interests of discipline? Is it against the interests of discipline that a man who has been dismissed or who has lost his 453 employment should feel that he has been fairly heard? I should have thought that in the long run discipline is dependent upon actual justice and upon the actual feeling that a man has been fully heard, and has not been deprived of his employment without the elementary right which is given to every other person. I should say that by giving a fair hearing to everyone who feels that he has a grievance and that he has not been fairly treated, my hon. Friend would not be interfering with discipline, but would be aiding discipline, because, discipline, after all, is based on the sanction of fair play and elementary justice.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member opposite. With the exception of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for St. Andrews Burghs (Colonel Anstruther-Gray), everybody who has taken part in the Debate has taken the view that a change is necessary for the purpose which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite has in view. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in the course of his defence, rested his case on two points. The first was a point of form in relation to the Amendment. It is quite true that in the form that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite has moved it there is a difficulty in accepting the Amendment, because it provides machinery, not in substitution of, but in addition to, that which exists under Section 42 of the Army Act. I think, on more mature consideration, the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be well advised to make the new machinery rather substitutive than additional machinery. There is at present this right to make representations to the Army Council, and the real question is whether the Army Council offers a good method of redress to those, both officers and men, who have a grievance. The dissatisfaction which has been expressed is good evidence that there is a very widespread feeling that this is not the best method of dealing with these cases of grievance. The Army Council is in essence an administrative and not a judicial body, and as a general principle it is a mistake to impose judicial functions upon administrative authorities. Everybody will agree that under present conditions the Army Council is a greatly overburdened administrative authority, and that it would be well in the interests of the Army Council itself to have it relieved of the burden of dealing with the 454 numerous cases which arise under Section 42 of the Army Act. That point will appeal to my hon. Friend the Undersecretary. I am sure that he has himself felt that one of the most difficult tasks that falls upon him in connection with the duties of his present office is precisely that duty which is involved under Section 42 of the Army Act. I think, from his own point of view, that the arguments I am now addressing to the Committee will carry absolute conviction. Indeed, I believe that it will carry greater conviction to him than to almost any other member of the Committee.
You have also to take this other consideration into account: When you have not independent judicial authority for the purpose, what is the real method of making representations? We all know that the aggrieved person, either before the Army Council has given its decision or subsequent to its decision, comes to Members of Parliament with a view of modifying that decision, or, indeed, goes to the Press. Very likely, in the first instance, he will come to Members of Parliament and suggest that they should make their representations to the Under-Secretary of State for War to have the question reopened or should bring some further facts to the notice of the authorities which may throw fresh light on the case. Is that a satisfactory method? Every member of the Committee will agree that it is not. It is not the way to have a judicial determination at all. It is highly objectionable that Members of this House should be called upon to make representations to the Executive for the purpose of upsetting these decisions. We know, if these private representations are unsuccessful, that the case is brought to the floor of this House. Everybody will agree that there is no body in this country more incompetent to deal with questions of this kind than the House of Commons. It is not the place to have these matters of competence or incompetence of officers and the grievances of soldiers against their officers thrashed out. We cannot deal with these things here. The utmost that hon. Members can do when such cases arise is to appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to have something in the nature of a formal inquiry.
My hon. and gallant Friend somewhat resented my interruption differing from him as to the course of events in the celebrated Barrett inquiry. That was not due to the then Secretary of State for War. It 455 was really due to the late Sir Arthur Markham, who made private representations in the first instance. The late Sir Arthur Markham, with that independence and chivalry and courage for which we all admired him and for which we all regret him, brought this case of an obscure boy of whom we had never heard before the notice of the authorities. He made private representations not only to the then Secretary of State for War, but also to the then Prime Minister. He could get no satisfaction out of either of them. He was up against the dead wall of professional influence in the Army Council, but he succeeded because he threatened to make a speech in this House in which he would read every one of the relevant letters. He brought the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War to their knees, and they had to give the inquiry. But because you have a case like that, which shows that literally the civilian Government can be squeezed, as it were, by a courageous and fearless man, is that any reason why we should be content with this system, and why there should not be the means of appeal which were available to this man as the result of Sir Arthur Markham's fearless action made available to every man who has not the means of enlisting on his behalf the influence of a powerful Member? I am reminded that the Government paid all the expenses. That was because powerful and rich men happened to be interested in this matter.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
The Act of Parliament created a Special Court. That Act is still in existence, and the Court could be called into existence if required.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I quite understand that. I know that it is still in the discretion of the War Office, in any given case, to grant an inquiry of this kind, but my hon. and learned Friend will agree that it would be only in circumstances where very powerful people brought influence to bear that such machinery would be brought into operation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That is also an essential condition in bringing that machinery into operation. I was using that analogy in a general way to fortify my argument. I am not suggesting that necessarily it 456 should be the machinery adopted in all cases. I am using it as an argument for a substituted machinery, which will be judicial in its character. The arguments which have been brought forward in favour of this new machinery are over-whelming. The only consideration which the Under-Secretary has put forward that might have some weight with members of the Committee is the circumstances in which the War at the present time is being conducted. I doubt very much whether that should be a consideration which should outweigh everything else in our minds to-day. The situation is indeed very serious, but as my hon. and gallant Friend has reminded the Committee, even under these serious conditions the War Cabinet can find time to devise a scheme of Home Rule for the people of Ireland who have not fought in this War. If they can do that, I suggest it is an appropriate time to provide a judicial means of redress for the aggrieved men who have fought in the War.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I would submit to the Committee, in support of the new Clause, a case brought to my own notice. It is that of a Welsh university student, who volunteered for the Army and who was sent back to this country, apparently suffering from shock. Six months after his return here a certain report against him was placed before the Army Council, and he was ultimately asked to resign. At his request, I took up his case with the War Office, and demanded that an inquiry should be made into it. The reply which I received apparently is the reply which is generally received: that it was the decision of the Army Council. In that case I happened to have all the papers laid before me, including a copy of the whole of the evidence. Speaking with some experience of legal matters and of evidence, I venture to say that that evidence would never have been accepted in any civil Court. I think the case went before the Army Council on two occasions and that on neither occasion was the officer concerned allowed to appear. All he was allowed to do was to put in a written statement. So far as I can make out, be was ultimately gazetted out of the Army on the statement or a general who himself has since been superseded. May I put the facts of that case shortly before the Committee? The man complained he was suffering from shell-shock. He was treated by a doctor, and he expressed the desire 457 to go back to his men. That was refused. He was sent over to this country. He was in a hospital at Ipswich for dealing with shell-shock cases for no less than six months. Notwithstanding the evidence of medical men, both in France and in this country, he was, I believe, charged with being temperamentally unfit for the position of an officer. He submitted himself, at my request, to a specialist in London, who assured him—I have seen the certificate myself—that he was suffering as a result of shell-shock, but that he was now fit to resume his position in the Army. He desired to do so. He was only twenty-three years of age and apparently in a fit condition. I pressed the War Office to reconsider his case, pointing out that his career was practically at an end. He was asked to resign his commission. He refused, and pointed out that that would be an acknowledgment of the serious charge made against him. He was ultimately gazetted out of the Army three months ago, and consequently came under the Military Service Act. I understand the position now is that the county tribunal of Anglesey refuses to hand that man over to the military authorities on the ground of the unfair way in which the military authorities treated him when he was an officer.
I cannot understand on what principles of justice a man's livelihood, a man's honour, a man's everything in the world, are to be taken away without giving that man—he was an officer—an opportunity of defending himself against the charges made against him. Here was a case where the evidence was purely medical. The medical evidence, both of the doctor in France and of the doctor in Ipswich, was available. In 'addition to that, we offered to bring before the Army Council the evidence of the best expert in London. The whole of that evidence was in tine man's favour, but he has been gazetted out of the Army and called up for military service as a conscript. Things of that kind are really art the bottom of the deep and bitter feeling which exists in this country against the Army Council. I can assure the Under-Secretary that this creates the most serious distrust, not only of the efficiency of the Army Council and of those who act for it, but also of their sense of justice. We have had an experience in the case of Sir Owen Thomas in Wales. He was asked to resign his position, and it was only after the most careful inquiry by the tribunal to which the hon. and 458 learned Gentleman (Mr. Hume-Williams) referred, and after the most searching and stringent examination, which we should have been very glad, indeed, to have made public—I happen to have seen it—that Sir Owen Thomas was reinstated in public opinion, was granted a knighthood by the Government, and had the whole of his expenses paid. Apart from that, pressure which was brought to bear upon the Government for a second inquiry, Sir Owen Thomas would have gone down to history, because it is on the records of the House, as having been asked to resign for inefficiency. The charge of inefficiency was removed by that Commission, and, as we know, he was subsequently knighted. I do not see any reason why the opportunity so given to Barrett, and extended to Sir Owen Thomas, should not also be extended to every officer and man in the Army.
I must apologise to the Committee for rising a second time in the course of this Debate, but the reply of the Under-Secretary was so unsatisfactory that I hope my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir I. Philipps) will press this new Clause to a Division. This is not the first time by any means that the attention of the War Office has been called to this matter. The opinions expressed to-day must have convinced them that there is need for some reform of this kind. The Under-secretary stated that the Army Council was supreme in this matter, and was a body which had been set up by a Liberal Administration to deal with all questions of this kind. It does not matter what Government set up the Army Council. They cannot complain if this House desires to remedy what it thinks to be a great defect in the present machinery for dealing with such matters. The Under-Secretary also said that no reforms could be carried out in time of war. That is one of the reasons why we find ourselves in the unfortunate position we are in to-day. It always has been one of the axioms of the War Office not to institute reforms but to wait for some drastic action before they begin to move. After our experiences in the past, the futility of that argument will become apparent to most people. Another point raised by the Under-Secretary was that an Appeal Tribunal of this kind was not competent to deal with the cases of officers who were dismissed on the ground of incompetency. God forbid that we should put any fresh obstacles in the way of getting rid of incompetent officers from the Army, 459 because we all know there are plenty of them. On the other hand, I do not believe that these difficulties would really arise in practice. Those cases which ought to come before a tribunal of this kind, which are necessarily cases of incompetency, would receive their proper treatment.
The Under-Secretary also said that three members of the Army Council are now told off to deal with these cases. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Roch) very eloquently pointed out, these three members of the Army Council do not hear the personal appeals of these officers. Before the Army Council came into existence, officers had a right of personal appeal to the Commander-in-Chief. We all know the procedure which goes on in the War Office, and how it is quite impossible, by simply reading over a large number of documents which probably have been in existence for a considerable time, for those three members to appreciate some of the facts, and even some of the most important facts with which they have to deal. I, therefore, ask the Under-Secretary whether he is prepared on behalf of the Army Council to say that in future these three members of that body who go into these cases are prepared to give personal interviews and hear personal appeals from the officers who are desirous of stating their cases to them in person? A most pathetic case came before my notice some time ago, in which an officer had made repeated attempts, both by correspondence and by calling at the War Office, to obtain a hearing. Although on paper he had an excellent case and thought he had been dealt with most unjustly, he had no opportunity of placing his case before the authorities and obtaining a personal hearing. It is cases of that kind which have brought about the present feeling both in the House and in the Army. I feel sure the House of Commons will not tolerate the non-possumus attitude of the War Office in the future, and although my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) appears now as the champion of the Secretary for War and has given him a glowing testimonial, we ought to vote in support of the Amendment.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
No one could have listened to the Debate without being impressed by the fact that the consensus of opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of the principle of some such departure as has been suggested. But I find myself 460 much more in sympathy with the object my hon. and gallant Friend has in view than with the precise form of machinery by which he desires to achieve it He proposes to provide the security which is now lacking by creating some machinery in the form of a Court of Appeal. I would much rather provide it by some machinery of the nature of a Court of first instance. The real tragedy of the situation as I see it, and as it is expressed in cases which have come to me in common with every other Member of the House, is that a man's life and career may be absolutely ruined by the exercise of some accidental or arbitrary expression of capricious opinion without any regard to the real and vital evidence or the facts of the case in question. Every Member of the House must have had cases brought to his notice of apparent great hardship which proved to be of real hardship where a man has been condemned on the opinion or recommendation of his immediately superior officer without any opportunity being presented to him of giving evidence or his statement of the facts, and he has been precluded from the remedy either of a Court of Inquiry or a court-martial. That is a condition of things which, on the most rudimentary principles of justice, cannot for a moment be tolerated, and I think it is the duty of the House, especially in view of the far-reaching character of the new proposals which the Government has recently presented, to ask for at least a rudimentary security for the interests and careers of men who may otherwise be ruined. It is perfectly true that by the accident of political circumstances and political promotion we are fortunate in having as Under-Secretary for War a Gentleman who is always responsive to personal appeals from us. But we, as Members of the House, ought not to be placed in the position of persons who must be the recipients of grievances and must be a sort of medium between aggrieved persons and the officials of the War Office. Moreover, supposing a private appeals to a Member of Parliament, we have again and again been told from the Front Bench that he is violating the King's Regulations, and that no Member of this House has a right to take up a case or a letter of complaint from a private soldier, so that in the case of a private soldier a Member of Parliament has no recognised right to intervene, however serious the case may be. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roch) dealt 461 very faithfully with the analogy which the Under-Secretary for War tried to draw with the case of a civilian in employment. My hon. and learned Friend's reply was conclusive so far as the Army was concerned, but what is the case in reference to the ordinary industrial worker? Does my hon. Friend pretend for a single moment that a workman may, under modern conditions, be arbitrarily dismissed on the mere opinion of his employer without any interference from his organised trade union?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I never said that. I said that a civil employer could not use his own opinion as the only calculation in getting rid of an employé. But supposing an employer came to the conclusion that a man was an inefficient workman, he would give him a month's notice in accordance with the conditions of employment, and at the end of the month the man would have no redress.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
The argument is not so capricious as my hon. Friend thinks, because he is there dealing with a salaried employéwho receives a month's notice. Take the case of the workman I have been mentioning. Will he suggest for a moment that the employer's opinion is the final criterion as to whether that man shall be dismissed or no? Some of the most serious labour disputes in recent years have occurred in consequence of an employer, or foreman, exercising the criterion of his personal judgment without any reference to the existence of an organised trade union. In the case of the Army there is no trade union, and I am quite prepared to agree that under the exigencies of discipline a trade union of the ordinary kind is impossible. But because the exigencies of the Service and the necessity for the maintenance of discipline make the soldier's case exceptional there is the more need to give him security in some other form, and I am bound to say that the reply from the Treasury Bench was wholly inadequate, in view of the strength of opinion in the country on this subject, and it is no use our trying to democratise our Army and to make it a national Army in the sense in which it is to-day unless we are first of all to safeguard to the men who compose that Army the very rudiments of justice and fair play. There are men known, to my hon. Friend, officers with Distinguished Service Orders, whose military careers are on record in the War Office, who would have been dismissed on 462 the ground of cowardice without the least opportunity of presenting the facts of their case. Personal intervention is given so far as it goes, but it is quite inadequate, as a security either for the private or for the officer.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I think as a result of this Debate the question of a Court of Appeal has gone a considerable step forward, and I believe the Under-Secretary will not be ready to come down on Report, and certainly not when the Bill comes in next year, with the feeble reply which he gave me. That reply does not do him justice, and certainly does not do me justice. He made one little quibble, and because I had not drafted my proposal cleverly and brought in the appeal to His Majesty before the Court of Appeal, therefore he said it was abolishing the soldier's charter. But he took no notice of Section 43, which is equally affected by my Amendment, and which refers to the soldier only, and the soldier has no appeal to His Majesty. The whole of his recent reply as put before the House by the Army Council was a pure quibble. That will not do. It cannot go on. This has to be settled. There is only one Member to-day—and you have large numbers here who are interested in the Army—who has been at all on the side of the Army Council, and he is a distinguished retired officer who, I believe, has not served in this War.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I beg his pardon and withdraw. Anyhow, he has not fully appreciated, I am sure, the great difference there is in the modem Army and the Army of which he was an ornament in his time. I should like to withdraw my proposal. The Clause in its present form has undoubtedly to be amended. We have had the most valuable Debate, and possibly the greater number of Members who have supported the Clause really wish to see something of this sort done, but we cannot carry it to-day. It would simply be waste of time to go through the Lobby, and therefore I hope the House will allow me to withdraw my proposal—[HON. MEMBERS: "No…"]—in the firm conviction that sooner or later the Army Council will have to bring forward the proposal themselves. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Colonel GREIG
I should not have intervened had it not been that I have had some experience as a Member of Parliament in receiving complaints which I have been asked to bring before the War Office, and the persons aggrieved have felt that they have not had a full opportunity of putting their case properly. There is one via media which we might adopt. I quite realise the difficulty which the Under-Secretary feels in regard to introducing entirely new machinery in the midst of a great war, but even the Mover of the Amendment does not suggest that. There is, however, another way which has been hinted at in several speeches, and if it were adopted it would remove a very large amount of the sense of injustice which many of these people feel who have been subjected to the decisions of a tribunal which they had never seen and before which they had never come. Let it be the practice in future of the Army Council—they will not be creating any new machinery; they will simply be going back to what was the practice in the old days—to grant a personal interview to the person aggrieved before the final decision is made. The Under-Secretary rather pledged himself to do something after the War. It can be done now and can meet all the cases that come under it. The practice under the Section as it used to be was that the Commander-in-Chief was required to examine complaints. The Act was altered by the substitution of the Army Council for the Commander-in-Chief. The Commander-in-Chief had instituted the practice of hearing and seeing the person implicated. Why should not the Army Council adopt the same practice and so very largely remove the sense of injustice, which I am certain is mainly based upon the fact that the individual does not feel that he has had an opportunity of stating his own case before the tribunal?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
As the Committee will realise, this is a very difficult problem and a dangerous one to embark upon at the present time so as to solve it, but I have been much impressed by what has been said by Members in all quarters of the House. I cannot pledge myself, but I will engage to consider whether it would not be possible to give a personal interview to any soldier who is dissatisfied with the sentence which has been passed upon him. I will not go beyond that. If it would in some sense restore the old right 464 that any officer had to apply to the Commander-in-Chief, that would go a long way—
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That will be considered, too, of course. It would go a long way to meet the general wish of the Committee. I was much struck by the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Hume-Williams), and I think the Committee will realise the truth of the statement which he volunteered that so far as courts-martial are concerned there could be no improvement. He also took strong exception to any interference with disciplinary cases. The graveamen of his charge was so far as Courts of Inquiry were concerned. By that I understand Courts which may be set up and which report upon certain facts. From the report of a Court of that sort he thinks there should be some sort of appeal. That is a point which appeals to me, and I will bring the strong arguments adduced to the notice of my colleagues and the Army Council and see whether before the new Army (Annual) Act something cannot be done.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I quite understand the position in which the Under-Secretary finds himself after the discussion which has taken place. Everybody in the House agrees as to the justice of these men having access to Courts of Inquiry, and that will be carried unanimously by the Members who have heard the discussion; but after two hours of that discussion, in which representations have come from all sides of the House, from Service Members and Members who are not in the Service, and Members of all political views, all that my hon. Friend can do is to say that between now and the next Army (Annual) Act, 1919, he will engage to bring this matter before the attention of the Army authorities and come down to this House three hundred and sixty-five days hence to meet a new discussion on this subject in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I know you cannot. That is the trouble. But we can bring the pressure of the House of Commons to bear through you and force the authorities to do something. It would be absurd if we were to take a decision of that nature from 465 my hon. Friend after this discussion. He says that he will endeavour to see that any aggrieved person who applies for a personal interview can get it. In the first place, he has already agreed in the discussion which has taken place that the three members of the Army Council who give attention to these matters are overworked. [Mr. Macpherson indicated dissent.] If my hon. Friend does not agree to that, his chief agreed. I have had an opportunity of discussing this with his chief and he has told me that both he and the Under-Secretary would be glad if some other means could be got for doing this, so that they could devote themselves to other work. Therefore, I hope he will settle that with his Chief when he meets him next. He knows perfectly well that if he could get somebody else to do this work, he could do other work more efficiently. He says he will undertake that a man who applies for an interview shall get it. But, if he gets the personal interview, who must he see? He must either see Lord Derby or my hon. Friend, or the third man who forms this Committee of the Army Council. Could Lord Derby or my hon. Friend see any more people than they are seeing now? The people who will want to see them are people with a grievance. They are not like an ordinary Member of Parliament, who states that he has a case with a grievance, but he does not tell him the whole grievance. These people will start by telling him the whole grievance. In a personal interview of that kind the man will start his case from the day he enlisted until the day he was discharged.
The House of Commons, for once in its life, is offering a reasonable, clean-cut scheme for dealing with these cases. We are offering to relieve my hon. Friend and his Chief of this work, and at the same time to give the people concerned a right which they ought to be entitled to enjoy. So far as I am concerned, I am disappointed with my hon. Friend's reply. What is the good of discussing things in the House of Commons? What is the good of arriving at a consensus of opinion like this? What is the use of agreeing about anything if at the end of the discussion all that is going to happen is that the Under-Secretary is going to convey to the War Office an account of what has taken place? If the hon. Member likes, I will take that information round to the War Office now, if somebody else will continue 466 the Debate, and I will bring back a decision as to what is to be done. It is not playing fair with the House of Commons or with the men concerned to give a reply of that kind, and I will go into the Lobby on a Clause of this kind. Cannot my hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, allow the Clause to be read a second time, and then amend it? The War Office is represented on the Front Bench and also under the Gallery, and, therefore, they could translate the Clause into some form which would meet the wishes of the Committee. If there is a non-possumus such as my hon. Friend suggests, and that he will oppose the Second Reading of the Clause, then it is obviously our duty to go into the Lobby against the Government and to demonstrate once again that when a common-sense proposal is brought forward the Department which is presumed to be prosecuting the War vigorously have nothing else to say about it except that they will consider it in a year's time.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I quite understand that it is very difficult for the Under-Secretary to accept a Clause such as this. Although I am in full sympathy with its principles, I can see that it is possibly not a perfect instrument for carrying out what is desired. I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary cannot very well accept it as it stands, and that he will have to go back to the War Office and consult the Secretary of State and the military authorities. May I make a suggestion? We are not many weeks off the Whitsuntide Recess. The Noble Lord the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Edmund Talbot), who decides the allocation of the time of the House, is here. Will the Government undertake to give the House two hours before eleven o'clock some time before Whitsuntide in which to discuss this Clause? We might then come to some decision, and that would give us time to think it over.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
On the other hand, could not some arrangement be made whereby appropriate time might be given for the Report stage?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) did me rather an injustice. I thought that I had gathered the opinion of the House, and I said that I would do my level best to make representations at once to my colleagues and 467 advisers. I also conveyed an expression to the House that I would undertake, if possible, to give an interview to any soldier or officer who had a complaint, thereby practically reviving the condition of things which prevailed at the time of the Commander-in-Chief. I thought I was really accepting what was pressed upon me by the House. I shall keep my part of the bargain. I do not think I was foolish in saying that it might be probably next year before a reform of the kind advocated by hon. Members could be carried out. I believe it may be possible to do it by another procedure—by a rule which I can place upon the Table of the House. Hon. Members seem to think that a change of this sort is quite easy of performance. I can assure the House that such is not the case. A great many things have to be considered, and I would ask hon. Members to let me have this Bill in all its stages to-day. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Ashley) suggested that the matter might be deferred for discussion before Whitsuntide. We must have this Army (Annual) Act before the end of this month. If we do not get the Act before the end of this month, the Army ceases to exist. I think, in view of these considerations, the House might very well accept the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Clause and allow it to be withdrawn, and we might see what can be done by way of procedure.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
It may be said that I am looking a gift-horse in the mouth, but I may say that I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said as to a Court of Appeal. If a Court of Appeal is to be set up it must take some time, and during the interval a number of these Courts will have been held. Would it not be possible under a rule of procedure such as he suggests to give any officer who has been reported against by a Court of Inquiry the right to be tried by court-martial?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think the Under-secretary has endeavoured to meet the general feeling so far as he has power to do it, but it does not follow that we should not take every opportunity of endeavouring to get more. It is possible for the House to sit on Friday. We have a good deal to do to-day in order to get through the Committee stage, and we are to take another Bill, a very important Bill, in 468 addition. We must remember that the House of Lords will not finish the Military Service Bill until late to-morrow night, and there may be Amendments coming from the House of Lords. If there are Amendments coming from the House of Lords it is obviously necessary to have a Friday sitting to deal with the Lords Amendments. Under these circumstances it is worth the Government's while to consider the advisability of having a. Friday sitting in order to take the concluding stages of this Bill and the Rents Bill and the Lords Amendments to the Military Service Bill. That will give the Under-Secretary an opportunity of considering this matter with the Secretary for War and the other authorities of the War Office. I think it will be possible for him, then, to say something as to the possibility of the Army Council making rules of procedure which will enable further inquiries to be made. It will be a simple matter for the Army Council, where they think there is a primâ facie case, to delegate that case to a certain body to investigate the matters reported to them. That is not asking a great deal. It is not out of any ingratitude towards the hon. Member that I now address the House. It is because of the very tentative nature of the promise which he has made. We know the limitations under which my hon. Friend speaks. We are very anxious to get a binding statement from the Government which will let us know, even if we are to wait for the Army Act next year, that something concrete has been achieved in the intervening twelve months. It is with that in view that I suggest that we might have the Report stage on Friday, and have a definite statement from the Government on this point.
§ Mr. HOGGE
We ought to have a reply to this. We have discussed the matter so far in a very friendly spirit and we are quite prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman, if we can see the proposal which he is prepared to make. We have been asked to take not only the Committee stage, but the Report stage and the Third Reading of the Bill to-night. That means that we can sit beyond eleven o'clock to complete this Bill. But you have the Second Reading of the Rents Increase Bill, which everybody wants to be read a second time to-night, and which cannot possibly be taken after eleven o'clock. There are some very important Amendments to the Army (Annual) Bill coming after this is dealt with in reference to death sentences which will 469 take a considerable time. My hon. Friend would put the whole thing right for us if he will take no more than the Committee stage to-day, and, whatever interval they take, if they put down the words, we will give them the Report stage quite quickly in an hour or so, if we see the words.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and negatived.