HC Deb 11 June 1918 vol 106 cc2014-6

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether, under the new Regulations affecting field punishment No. 1, a soldier sentenced to this punishment is fastened to a stake for two hours each day, but not for mere than twenty-one days in all; and whether in a hot climate any provision is made that the prisoner shall not be unduly exposed to the sun's heat?

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

The existing rules for field punishment were made in 1907, and provide that a soldier sentenced to field punishment No. 1 may be attached for a period or periods not exceeding two hours in any one day to a fixed object, but he must not be so attached during more than three out of any four consecutive days, nor during more than twenty-one days in all. No new rules have been made, but in January, 1917, instructions were issued standardising, within the powers of the existing rules, the method of carrying out the punishment. Copies of these instructions were placed in the Library in June of last year. The last part of my hon. Friend's question is dealt with in paragraph 4 of the Rules, which reads as follows: Every portion of a field punishment shall be inflicted in such a manner as is calculated not to cause injury or to leave any punishment mark on the offender; and a portion of a field punishment must be discontinued upon a report by a responsible medical officer that the continuance of that portion would be prejudicial to the offender's health.


Can my right hon. Friend tell me, in reference to this sixty days' field punishment, of which there is not more than twenty-one days in all, what happens on the other thirty-nine days? Is it simply a sentence not carried out and cannot be carried out, or is it that the man receives other punishment?


I do not think the sentence is one which cannot be carried out. If my hon. Friend reads the answer he will find that it is one which is possible to he carried out.


Have any steps been taken to abolish this degrading form of punishment, for certainly it is degrading to a soldier in the eyes of others?


The hon. Member is making a statement. The hon. Gentleman should limit himself to questions.


asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether Private Richard Hartley, formerly of Burnley, and now serving in Italy in the Army Service Corps Remounts, was on 22nd April sentenced by a court-martial to sixty days' field punishment No. 1 for having sold cigarettes and tobacco to Italian civilians; whether he is aware that this soldier, who comes of a very respectable family, has hitherto borne an unblemished character; and whether the War Office authorities, since this case was brought to their notice, have done anything to postpone the execution of the sentence pending full inquiries?


This soldier was tried by court-martial for disobeying an Area Order, prohibiting the sale of cigarettes and tobacco purchased in a canteen to Italian civilians, and was sentenced as stated in the question. I am afraid that the sentence could not be legally postponed by the War Office authorities pending inquiries, and I have no information which would justify any interference with the finding or sentence of the Court. My hon. Friend will realise that there are very good reasons for forbidding the sale of duty-free tobacco by soldiers to Italian civilians, and I think the Italian Government would have just cause to complain if such a prohibition was not enforced.


May I take it that the hon. Gentleman is going to receive a full report of this case, and, in view of the fact that on the face of it there has been apparently a grave miscarriage of justice —[HON. MEMBEBS: "No!"]—will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider and review the case as regards the man's pay and allowance, if he find that the facts warrant that action?


I do not see what justification my hon. Friend has for saying that there has been a miscarriage of justice. I should have thought it was the other way about, for the reasons I have given, but I have promised, in correspondence to my hon. Friend that I will have this case sent to me and carefully look into it.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the chaplain interested himself very much in this case, that this man has hitherto borne a perfectly unblemished character, that he comes from a very respectable family, and that there is considerable reason for thinking that he was not aware of the Order in question?