The following Section shall be inserted after Section one hundred and fifty-three of the Army Act:
153A. Any person who—
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move, to leave out paragraph (a).
In moving this Amendment I may say that this Clause is causing great concern to the working classes of this country. By putting it into the Army (Annual) Act in the terms in which it is at present the Government are simply seeking to translate into permanent legislation some of the Defence of the Realm Regulations which were put into operation to meet the circumstances of 1253 an abnormal time, and by doing this they are strengthening the power and influence of militarism in this country. We have been allowed to believe during the whole course of the great struggle from which we are just emerging, that this was a war to destroy militarism, that being the opinion generally held, at any rate in working-class circles, and the Committee can well understand that a proposal of the character we are now considering is causing very great concern indeed to the working-class movement in the country. The Prime Minister, we are led to believe from newspaper reports, is at the present time putting up a very hard fight for the establishment of a League of Nations. We believe if such a League were set up the necessity for militarism, as the world has known it up to the present, would entirely disappear. Consequently we cannot understand the reason why the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and the Government, should seek to strengthen still further the power and influence of militarism in this country at the present moment. In the teems of Clause 12 Members of Parliament and trade union officials would have the activities in which they nave been engaged during the past four and a half years on behalf of those of their constituents who are serving in the Army very much curtailed. As a matter of fact if this Clause is allowed to stand in its present form it would be impossible for either Members of Parliament or trade union officials to come to the assistance of constituents in the way they have been doing during the past four and a half years, with great benefit to the men and the dependants of the men serving in the Army. If the Secretary for War thinks that by amending the Army (Annual) Act in the manner provided for in Clause 12 he is going to strengthen the respect for the law among a very large section of the people of this country, I fear he is making a serious mistake. I think that the present law is quite sufficient to meet the circumstances of the case. Under that law an offender such as this law seeks to deal, with can be fined in a penalty not exceeding £20, and we consider that that is quite sufficient power to be in the hands of the Government and of the military authorities. When this question was under discussion on the Second Heading the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who was then in charge of the Bill, was drawn to this particular Clause, and he promised that he would 1254 give the suggestions for its modification serious consideration between then and the Committee stage. I hope, in keeping with that promise, he is going to give effect to the Amendment which I have great pleasure in now moving.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We live in very serious times. I do not think the Committee would be well advised to omit from this Bill either the whole, of this Sub-section or the whole of this Clause. Probably there never was a time when more mischief could be wrought to the general fabric and structure of the State by the kind of thing which is stigmatised and penalised in this Clause.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I submit we are as good judges as hon. Gentlemen opposite on that point. I decline to admit there are any experts in democracy in this House. We are all elected on equal terms and have a right to equal credit and consideration. We are elected on the widest franchise obtaining in any country in the world, and it is our business to see that the people's rights are not derogated from or prejudiced in any respect. I do think that if a man by word of mouth or in writing or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular or other printed publication, spreads reports or makes statements in tended or likely to prejudice the recruiting of persons to serve in any of his Majesty's Auxiliary Forces he is committing a serious offence, especially in the times in which we live, and the State certainly ought to be protected against such an offence. I consider also that if a man attempts or does any act calculated or likely to cause disaffection amongst any of His Majesty's Forces, it is a very serious matter—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
And the £20 penalty is not certainly a sufficient penalty for any man who wilfully and wantonly attempts to create a mutiny or disaffection in any of those large bodies of military men whom we have on our hands at the present time in the different stages of demobilisation in which they are. Then take paragraph (c). I think it will be convenient to refer to the whole Clause in dealing with this most important Amendment.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
On a point of Order. I take it that if the right hon. Gentleman refers to the whole Clause we shall not be debarred from having a full discussion of the further Amendments on the ground that the whole Clause has already been discussed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
No. It was my view that it would be for the general convenience of the Committee that on the first Amendment I should allow a more or less general discussion of the whole Clause. Then we could take the other Amendments afterwards, if the Committee is not satisfied with what is said on the first.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Paragraph (c) says:Attempts to induce any member of any of His Majesty's military forces to act in a manner which such person knows to be in contravention of the King's Regulations.An ordinary soldier is liable to these very severe penalties. He is liable to two years' imprisonment with hard labour for conduct of that kind. Is the man who seduces and instigates him to that action to be liable to the penalty only of £20, which my hon. Friend says is an absolutely sufficient deterrent for cases of this kind? Experience has shown that a purely financial penalty is not a sufficient deterrent. We then reach the interesting stage of asking where the £20 is supplied from. There is no lack of £20 in the world when you are dealing with a question of this kind. Such sums come from very odd sources and at very convenient moments. We should not rest ourselves entirely upon the basis of a purely monetary penalty. Paragraph (b) deals with any person whoobstructs, impedes, or otherwise interferes with any member of His Majesty's military forces in the execution of his duties.I say that no man—I leave it entirely to the opinion of the Committee and I place myself in their hands—looking out over the whole state of the world at the present time, who wants to make it easy and cheap for agitators, who hate this country, who have done their utmost to bring it to its knees in the time of war, to go about working up sedition, mischief and mutinies in our Army ought to receive the support of the Committee or of the House to which this Committee must make its Report. I cannot think that the terms of the Clause fail to warrant the penalties inflicted. I should like to point out that we have lived under these terms during the last few critical years through which we have been 1256 passing, because this Clause has been taken bodily front the Defence of the Realm Regulations.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We are still at a period which cannot be called peace time. It may not again become war time, but you cannot call it peace time. The present is not the same as that safe and comfortable time in which we lived in the years preceding the great War. We still have all the great effervescence and confusion of war.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The Clause only stands for one year. It can be re-examined and rediscussed in the light of the circumstances as we find them then.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not know when the election will come. If the hon. Gentleman thinks there will be some great advantage to be gained by any particular party being able to work upon the loyalty and discipline of the soldiers at election time, and that party advantage might flow from that, he is very much mistaken. It is most important that in dealing with attempts to incite sedition in the Army, or to cause discontent among the considerable bodies of armed men in present conditions you should not do anything to interfere with fair and reasonable criticism of the military authorities or of the War Office in regard to anything they might do in respect to the administration of the Army or the conditions under which it is raised or recruited. Has there been any country in the world in which there has been such criticism during the War as has gone on in this country? There have been the most vehement criticisms which have not been dealt with under the very full provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act. The utmost latitude has been given to all reasonable and fair criticism. It is the intention that that should not be in any way impaired in the future any more than it has been in the past. Do not let it be imagined that we are trying to escape criticism, or even scathing censure, or shrewd and excoriating ridicule. We are as ready to have as much of that as the daily Press and hon. Gentlemen can supply us with. The intent to create sedition 1257 and discontent in the armed forces and to seduce soldiers from their duties are matters which fall into an entirely different category and which ought to be dealt with by altogether different processes and under processes which cannot be met by a paltry pecuniary fine. However, I have considered this matter very carefully in the light of the opinions which were expressed in the Debate on the Second Reading, and I am exceedingly anxious that we should take a course which brings everybody together in the matter. I was impressed by the opinions expressed here to the effect that it is possible that legitimate criticism might be involved in some cases by the provisions of this Clause as they stand. I think we had better stick to the intention and to the principle, but I am quite ready to drop out the words "likely to," in order that we may have as large a body of opinion with us as possible. I would therefore propose to amend this Clause by dropping out the words "or likely" in paragraph (a) and also the words "or likely" in paragraph (b). Perhaps I may mention here that I am quite ready to accept the Amendment in the names of hon. Members opposite to leave out the wordsor in any body of persons enrolled for employment under the Army Council.I imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite have thought that that might contemplate the enrolment of a large body of civilians under the Army Council for the purpose of strike-breaking or something like that. We have never contemplated anything of the sort. These words are intended to apply to Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps and to the Women's Royal Air Force. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not say so?"] I do not think it is necessary to say so. I am quite willing to accept that Amendment to leave out those words altogether, and to leave the women's organisations, which we shall keep in being, to the extent that we shall keep them in being after the War, exposed to the full blast of the mephitic influences against which this measure is intended to protect the men of the Regular Army. I do not think we shall have any difficulty in recruiting the number of these women that we want, and I am not prepared to make difficulties for a point of that kind. Therefore, I am in a position to meet my hon. Friends on two very substantial points. I am going to accept fully the Amendment to leave out the words 1258or in any body of persons enrolled for employment under the Army Council,and I am prepared to leave out the words "or likely" in paragraphs (a) and (b). That is a very important alteration, which I am advised very markedly reduces the chances of a conviction being obtained under the Army Act, but it is an alteration which I think we can afford.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am very glad my hon and gallant Friend agrees with me. It is one I think we can afford, even in these difficult times, and in the hope that it may mitigate some of the wrath expressed from the Opposition Benches, I offer it with my best wishes for the consideration of the Committee.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I rather wish that the Secretary of State for War had given us the concluding paragraph of his speech first, and had left out all the beginning, because we should have saved seven minutes of time. Probably most of us will agree that he has met us very fairly so far as paragraph (a) is concerned. Personally, I am not satisfied with regard to the penalties, but we shall deal with them later.
We are all very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the concession he has made. He can afford to delete these words, because the sting is in the other words as well. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that many of us on these benches have done our bit during the War, and, before the Military Service Act came into operation, helped recruiting under the Derby scheme. Indeed, many of us are still prepared to advocate the voluntary principle for recruiting the Army. This Clause will hit some of us very hard, especially those of us engaged in trade union work, and who take part in demonstrations. Supposing, for instance, a demonstration were held next Sunday, and some of my hon. Friends were to criticise the rates of pay now being given to the soldiers, and were to say that they were insufficient, and that the Government ought to do a great deal more than they have done up to the present time, I believe they could be summoned under this particular Clause.
§ 5.0 P.M.
What might happen would be that you would get some 1259 officious police officer or policeman or a private detective who might be at the meeting and listening to the speeches, who would report to the superintendent, and the superintendent might come to the conclusion that we had been doing something which would injure recruiting and the discipline of the Army. The result would be that a summons would be issued, and we should find great difficulty in getting out of this Clause. This is the first time such a Clause has been inserted in this Bill. We know who the Government are after, just as much as they know themselves. We know there are a few people in this country—they are very few indeed; you could almost count them on your two hands—who are doing their level best to discredit this country and prevent any men from joining the Army. So far as we are concerned we have no sympathy with them. We are up against them every time and are fighting them every yard. What you want to do is to penalise one or two men who are doing their level best to prevent men from joining the Army. But there is a great danger that some of us who have been helping you during the War will be penalised. The right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to withdraw the Clause altogether. The Government have plenty of power now to penalise anyone who does anything to prevent recruiting or to cause anything like rebellion or mutiny in the Army. Nobody wants that. No single Member of our party wants to see the same thing happening in this country as is happening in Germany and Russia at the present time. The Government will be doing the very thing they do not want to do. They will be causing a great deal of dissatisfaction among organised labour, who will feel inclined to kick over the traces. We have been doing our level best to keep the rank and file of labour in proper order and discipline, but I am quite certain that the rank and file of organised labour will be very much alarmed if this Clause goes through in its present form. Therefore the Secretary of State for War would be well advised to leave the Clause to get the Bill through, and to let us work in peace and harmony the same as during the War period.
Sir H. DALZIEL
While we welcome the assistance which has been given by my right hon. Friend I think the Com- 1260 mittee ought to approach the consideration of the Clause with very great care and caution. I understood him to say he was only embodying in the Army Bill the Clause already contained in the regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act. It is necessary that he should make it a permanent piece of machinery in the Army Act while he has the power at present under the Defence of the Realm Act? It is all very well for him to say we can consider this at the end of next year in the new Army Act. We do not know exactly what conditions may prevail at that time. He knows as well as I know that for the Committee to accept a Clause of this kind in effect makes it very difficult indeed under any circumstances for the House to reverse its decision. At what period is it contemplated that the Defence of the Realm Act will be withdrawn?
Sir H. DALZIEL
I think the terms are the ratification of peace. What is my right hon. Friend's anticipation of when that date will be? He surely anticipates that it will take place before one year expires.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Does my right hon. Friend seriously suggest, as a responsible member of the Government, that he thinks peace may not be declared before one year has passed? It can only be that belief that justifies this Clause, because if peace is ratified in the course of a few months, which I hope it may be—the Government will have to look after themselves if it is not—there is no cause whatever for the Clause, because up to the moment when peace is ratified you have the same powers as you are asking for, and therefore my right hon. Friend is asking for something in peace time which, in my opinion, he has no right to demand from the House of Commons. Does he contemplate another war after the ratification of peace? If not, no recruiting for war purposes will be required, and it will not be necessary to issue these strong powers. I therefore put it to the Committee that my right hon. Friend has these powers till the end of the War, till peace has been declared, and he has made no case for having them in time of peace.
Let me go a little further and examine the intention. He has very wisely with- 1261 drawn the words "as likely" because they are capable of a very wide interpretation. Therefore the intention has to be considered. What is the intention in this respect? Suppose, for the sake of example, the Government were going to decide on an aggressive military policy in Russia, and I were to write or deliver a speech to the effect that I thought this was a dangerous and a disastrous policy and I gave reasons why it ought not to be supported by the electors of this country. Would that be prejudicing recruiting? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that that criticism was levelled at the intention of the Government to launch a great Army in Russia or elsewhere and that overwhelming reasons were given against that policy, and the people of this country were advised not to support it. That would undoubtedly be prejudicing recruiting, because a citizen Mould say, "I see no cause for this great expedition. I see no cause for this aggressive military policy. If it had been a reasonable policy I should have volunteered and been willing to be recruited, but I am convinced the policy is wrong, and therefore I propose to withdraw my intention of entering the military force." Under this Clause there is no doubt whatever that any person who criticised the policy of the Government would render himself liable to be prosecuted. But that is not all. It is the effect of the Clause itself that interferes with liberty. Men are not going to express their honest opinions. They are not going to write their honest opinions. They have no time to be troubled with the Public Prosecutor, or any of his friends. Therefore, rather than risk a prosecution, they refrain altogether from any criticism. It has a paralysing effect upon freedom of speech, upon the liberty of the Press, and upon the liberty of the citizen.
I go a little further. I notice my right hon. Friend has brought in the words, "or administration of such forces." What do they mean? Administration, I take it, would mean the War Office officials in Whitehall, including my right hon. Friend himself. I am sure he would be the very last man who would complain of any criticism. What political success he has had, which is very great, in this House and the country is partly due to the criticism he has had—not entirely, for I must make some allowance for his great natural ability. But I am sure he is the last man who would complain of criticism, 1262 and therefore, by including the words "administration," he is protecting himself and his officials in Whitehall against criticism. Let me give a concrete case. We had an example the other day of gross neglect or gross blundering on the part of some official at the War Office. I refer to a number of men at Victoria Station waiting for hours without any facilities to go back to the front and having to walk the streets at night through no fault of their own and having to live as best they could during the few days they were in London. My right hon. Friend very quickly dealt with that matter. But still a blunder was committed. There was a mistake somewhere, and there was a good deal of feeling among the members of the forces who were concerned. If I were to say that the administration of the officials of the War Office was faulty, that they had committed a blunder and made a great mistake which was calculated to create dissatisfaction in His Majesty's Forces, should I be prosecuted?
Sir H. DALZIEL
My right hon. Friend might not be at the War Office at the time. He might be occupying a position of greater responsibility, and his promise to me will not count. These decisions are not made entirely by the head of the War Office. They are made by a police-constable or a police-magistrate in a particular district. Therefore, it does not lie with him to give any assurance on the point. Undoubtedly any person who criticises the administration of the War Office, as the Clause stands, even in its proposed amended form will be liable to prosecution. I make an appeal to my right hon. Friend. In the first place, in my opinion, such a prosecution should come only before the High Court. In the second place, I appeal to him, as he has the power until peace is signed, let him wait until peace is signed. Let him bring in a new Bill embodying this Clause at that time if the conditions make it appear to be necessary. But I appeal to him at present not to persevere with this Clause, because I think it is a dangerous Clause which will give rise to a great deal of misunderstanding and which is totally unnecessary.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I want to add my appeal to the others which have been made. I do it in full sympathy with the Government. If such a Clause as this had 1263 existed when the right hon. Gentleman made his speech in criticism of the Army he would be in gaol by now. He would have had a long period in gaol. I want to make this appeal, that you do not make bleating martyrs, that you do not emphasise men who really do not count, that you do not insult the democracy, and as more or less of an expert on democracy I want to claim that in this War no other nation has offered such a loyal contribution in blood and treasure as the manhood and the democracy of this country. I do not want you to turn them down. I do not want you to turn their relatives down. I do not want you to turn the memory of their bloody sacrifices down. It is all very well to say there may be dangers. Of course there have been clangers. Of course there have been many things said, calculatedly said, hysterically said, and said in moments of mere excitement. Even Cabinet Ministers are given to excitement at times. We have heard of Limehouse speeches and probably the most brilliant periods of some of our brilliant Cabinet Ministers have come at moments of excitement, because at such periods whatever genius they possess expresses itself. No other country was in exactly the same position as ourselves at the commencement of this War. We had no Army and even the head of our Navy has confessed that it was not as well prepared as it might have been. Presuming criticisms are offered, those of us who are friends of our country are bound, even more than the Government, to offer criticism, and any construction may be placed upon our words. I might have had seven years for sedition and not on police evidence. I do not think the police are generally untrue. I am not saying a word against the police, because I have had a good deal to do with them and as a body they are as honourable as any other class I know. But it is just as well that you do not make martyrs. We can do without any of this protection. I hope the Government is not alarmed. The democracy and the industrial classes of this country are not Bolshevik, and there is no responsible trade union or Labour leader in this country who is at the moment opposed to the interests of his country. You build up your Army. No other country had such an opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of men came to 1264 your ranks right through the War. The whole of the workers have come to your aid. I believe you have been freer because you allowed criticism. If you carry this sort of thing Lord North-cliffe ought to be fetched from the South of France and put into gaol, and our hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South (Mr. Bottomley) would be in gaol next week, and I can see a shiver on my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy.
It is useless to import into a measure of this character things which you cannot carry out. If you carry out this Clause, logically and legally, there is no public man of any importance in this country who can safely offer criticism, and no public newspaper which can safely offer comment. There is no man in pulpit or on platform who can indulge in fair speech. If this measure is passed the enemies of this country will at once say that we are imitating Kaiserism and Czarism. I tell the House that just as we are opposed to Kaiserism and Czarism, so we are opposed to Bolshevism, and if there is any tendency in that direction it will be a misadventure by the mishandling by this Government of the temper and temperament and spirit of the nation. I ask you in all sincerity not to impose legal obligations upon those who up till now have helped you to carry through this War, and some of us who are responsible have had a very difficult task to fulfil. I am not whining about it. We shall go through, whatever happens, but if you tie our hands, and the hands of the best minds and best hearts that have helped the country, then on you must be the blame. To offer such a suggestion as this is like a red rag to a bull, and by it you undo our work, our loyalty, and our service. I ask the Secretary for War to withdraw this Clause absolutely. You have the power already. I ask that it be removed from this Bill, so that, at least, those of us who love our country and love order and a fair Government shall be helped, and so that you shall not strengthen the Bolshevik element.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I was not fortunate enough to be in the House when the Secretary of State for War replied, but I have heard the two last speeches, and I must say that two more powerful and destructive criticisms of the proposal under consideration I have never heard. The appeal which has just been made by my 1265 hon. Friend is one which, I am quite sure, the Government will find it very difficult to resist. Let me emphasise the points made by my right hon. Friend. What is your danger zone? It is, presumably, up to the ratification of peace and the end of the War. That is already covered by the existing Regulations. Then what is your case? It must be made for the conditions which obtain after the ratification of peace. What are those conditions? They are at present unknown, and no one can tell what they will be. Then is the time to come to the House, when you know what the peace conditions are, and until that you are amply secured. What is the answer to that? I dare say that the Secretary of State for War, with his extraordinary verbal and literary resources, may find an answer. Why do you want this power, when you do not know what the conditions after peace will be? Everybody has the right to assume that they will be conditions which will reflect credit on the public spirit of every class in this country. The Government have agreed, to leave out the words "or likely," but that is a very little thing. Take, for instance, the question of a voluntary Army and its training. Is it at all a good way to get the public spirit which is necessary to produce a voluntary Army and it is only by public spirit and good-wall you can get it, to antagonise that feeling by such a Clause as this—surely not. What about training? Constantly, in this House, we hear complaints about the method of training. It is right and proper that it should be so, and that does not seem to have caused any real injury to the military machine in these times, or anterior to the date of the War. How often in the public Press and on platforms has the question of field punishment been raised, and also in this House, and yet in doing so outside you are at once within the ambit of the power of the magistrate and police authority? In those circumstances this House would be the only place where you could discuss a matter of that kind without fear of prosecution. My right hon. Friend has also referred to the provision as to administration. It might be said "we will not exercise those powers," but that really is quite the last absurdity in defence of such a power. You ought not to have this power unless you make out an overwhelming case for it, but there is no case made out for it at present. After peace 1266 is declared, and when we have the conditions before us, let us see what is necessary and what is proved to be necessary.
Mr. T. THOMSON
As one who has served in the ranks I should like to make an appeal on behalf of the soldiers themselves, because when they are free to have their opinions and their grievances voiced by Members of this House here, and outside this House by others, they realise that they are not entirely under the heel of Army discipline. I suppose one has to serve in the ranks to realise what the military machine really means. Until one has had that experience one does not realise how he has wholly lost his identity and how he becomes simply a cog in the big military machine, with all sense of humanity and individuality lost. To deny to Members of Parliament, as this Clause would do, the right to voice the grievances of the men in the ranks in the Press or on the platform would be doing an injustice and taking away from our soldiers a protection which now exists. I know that the right hon. Gentleman says it is not the intention of the Government by this Act to prohibit reasonable criticism of the Army and its administration, but my experience as a magistrate has shown me that our legal advisers tell us, when men are brought before the Courts, that it is not what Parliament intended, but what the Act says. I am perfectly certain, from my magisterial experience that if a Member of this House were brought before us after criticising adversely certain matters in connection with the Army that would have to be construed as conduct which was prejudicial to recruiting. Therefore I appeal to the Government, in the interests of the men, and of recruiting generally, to withdraw this Clause. Under the Defence of the Realm Regulations the power remains in force as long as the War exists, and surely when we get back to peace conditions we are going to give men not less but greater liberty and greater freedom than they had before.
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
I also desire to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman about this Clause. I do not think it appears to be generally appreciated that this Bill only carries us to the 30th April next. It has been clearly pointed out that under the Defence of the Realm Act you have these powers now, and, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, until peace. In the few months interval, if the right hon. Gentleman finds that recruiting 1267 is being prejudiced, then it will be his duty to come and tell the House so, and I believe that the whole House would support him at once. He has made out no case to-day. It is suggested that it might be too late in a few months, but I do not think so. If any action were taken by any individual you could bring in a Bill at once to take steps to stop it. This Clause wants entire redrafting. There is much too much of Army Council about it. The right hon Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) referred to the possibilities which might arise in connection with criticism or administration. That means to say that in my own Constituency I am not to bring charges against the Army Council, which I have consistently done since I became a Member of Parliament. If I did so I should be put in prison, and I suppose they would be only too delighted to put me there.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman's criticism would be with the object of improving the administration.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
Of course it would be to improve it, and that is the object of all my criticism, but in the opinion of the Army Council it would be to damage it. They have never yet supported my proposals, and every proposal I put forward on every single occasion has been turned down. Therefore I would be found in the wrong. I do beg of him to reconsider this matter. It is only for a few months, and at this time next year the same subject can again be brought up. Some form of this Clause might be accepted unanimously by this House, as, for instance, Sub-Clause (d), to which I should have no objection myself—obstructs, impedes, or otherwise interferes with any member of His Majesty's military forces in the execution of his duties.That seems to be very reasonable. I think it is most essential that this House should keep complete control over everything to do with the Army. We only allow the King to have an Army for one year because of this very reason, that it must be an Army belonging to the people, and unless it is you cannot have an Army at all. Therefore you do not always want to be prosecuting the people because they are criticising their own Army. The whole spirit of this Clause is against the spirit of the British Army, which is a one-year Army. It compels the Army administra- 1268 tion to organise their Army in such a way that it meets the public views, but this Clause does just the opposite, and the whole spirit of it is against the spirit of the British Army. If we go to a Division, I shall have to vote against it, much as I dislike voting against the Government.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I wish to appeal to the Secretary of State to withdraw this Clause. It has been very clearly proved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy that the powers the War Secretary wishes for under this Clause he already possesses to such an extent and for such a time as to keep him absolutely out of danger during the period that elapses between now and peace. I want to make my principal appeal to him for rather a different reason from those which have been adduced. This Clause is presumably intended to deal with those men who are deliberately antinational and who wish to injure the interests of their own country. I have some knowledge of the working people of this country, and I do not think that men of any prominence of that character amount to a greater number in this country than could be counted on the fingers of your hand. They are just the type of people who enjoy a free advertisement. This Clause gives them the finest advertisement of their lives, and helps them in their propaganda against the Government, which propaganda is based on the assumption that the Government is guilty of bad faith, that it is a militarist Government, and that it cannot be trusted in any circumstances. Why give them the free advertisement they seek? There is another class of people in the community who are equally and even more dangerous, in my opinion There is such a thing, even in our country, as nerves. There are people in the country who behind every shadow see a German spy, who in every financial transaction see the German machinations, who in every strike see German gold, who in every public meeting at which a little excitement is shown see Bolshevist propaganda. These hysterical people are more dangerous than the active Bolshevists, and this Clause will please them as well as it will please the actual Bolshevists. I would suggest that the dignity of our nation should be so high in our estimation as to prevent us carrying a Clause of this nature, which assumes in itself that the country is in grave danger from a certain part of its population. I do not believe the country is in danger from any part of 1269 its population. I do not believe that those people whose nerves have given way ought to dictate the policy of the country. I do not believe the liberties of the nation ought to be touched, and every man, surely, who believes in free speech, free thought, free conduct, and free expression will resent this Clause, and I believe the Secretary of State for War will be well advised to withdraw it, because it gives him no new power, because it gives a valuable advertisement to the worst part of our population, and because in no sense can it do him any good.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I think some of us on these benches agree with every reason which has been given for the deletion of Clause (a), and I venture with great respect to add one additional reason why the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw this Clause. I think we all have a horror of discretionary offences, by which I mean offences which are offences when one person commits them and not offences when another person commits them. During the course of this War I have had an experience which has led me to form a clear and definite opinion as to the in advisability of a Clause of this sort in an Act of Parliament. I have had the humble duty of advising one of His Majesty's Departments as to offences of this character under D.O.R.A., and the occasions on which a prosecution is advisable for offences of the sort indicated or intended by Clause (a) are exceedingly difficult to define. During the time that there has been a censorship, which, of course, is still in force, but which I hope will be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment, of private correspondence, there has been a large number of private persons who have offended in letter, and probably in spirit also, against D.O.R.A. The difficulty of discovering whether or not it would be prudent to have a prosecution in such cases has been immense, but I am certain that if there had been prosecutions in anything like a large number of the cases where an offence had been committed it would have been to the prejudice of the interests of this country. It was not necessary in the interests of the country that prosecutions should take place, nor was it desirable, and, however necessary it may be that the Defence of the Realm Regulations should exist while we are in a state of war in order that wide powers may be given to the Executive, I think we are all agreed that when peace comes 1270 the Executive should be tied down to offences which are clear if they are committed and as to which prosecution should inevitably follow, whether or not the person is highly placed or is lowly placed when the offence has been committed. This Clause is vague in the offence which it creates. It leaves practically everything to the opinion of the magistrate or the judge, and there is no indication as to the method by which the tribunals shall arrive at the intention of the party who, by private letter or by private conversation, as well as by public manifesto, does something with the intention of prejudicing recruiting. We have a rooted objection to offences of this kind. One or other of two things will happen—either we shall have a multiplicity of prosecutions, trivial in their nature, disastrous to the state of public feeling in this country, and irritating to the persons against whom proceedings are taken, or we shall have the Clause a dead letter, because legal people who have to advise as to whether proceedings should be taken or not, will find it almost impossible to arrive at a sound conclusion. The Clause will become as dead as the blasphemy laws. It will be on the Statute Book, and we shall be in the position of having an offence which a Minister can use or not use at his pleasure against a particular individual. Some of us would be unwilling, if it is necessary, to vote against the Government on this particular Clause, but I venture to think that some of us will feel bound to do so, and I for one shall feel certainly bound to do so, unless I see a Clause of this vagueness taken out of the Bill, where I am surprised to see the Government thought it necessary to give it a place.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
My own opinion upon the Clause is that it is a piece of panic legislation. I do not think there is the slightest ground for such a Clause finding its way into the Bill. If its purpose is to secure a big body of voluntary recruits for the future Army, then I respectfully suggest that it will have just the opposite effect, because you will at once make the prospective volunteer feel that not only will he come under the ordinary Army Regulations, but that, whatever grievance, imaginary or real, he may have cause to complain of whilst serving with the Colours, he will be deterred from making that grievance known to his relatives or to the public representatives with a view 1271 to remedying them. Already one is receiving quite a volume of correspondence expressing the view that the Government, by the extension of conscript legislation, have secured a large body compulsorily for the Army, and that that body naturally suffers from grievances which undoubtedly do exist, such as huge concentrations in Egypt at the moment awaiting transport home for demobilisation, and, it is alleged, on short rations. If we were to make such an utterance outside the House with such a Regulation as this finding its way into the Army (Annual) Act, we should at once be subject to prosecution on the ground that we were doing something likely to create disaffection in His Majesty's Forces. The soldiers who are compulsorily retained in the service of the country, having this volume of grievances to hand now filling their letters home, will feel that this is an attempt to fasten upon them further Regulations to prevent expression being given to their views upon conditions, Regulations, and the like, as at present found in the Army, and when those parents send those letters to any public representative, or when indeed a demobilised person from the Army exposes something that he feels ought to be exposed to the public, he will at once be liable, and with such a Regulation as this in existence he will feel that an injustice has been done to him. I suggest that the British race do not require any of this strange kind of legislation to keep it in order. I suggest that we are made of quite different material to that. I suggest that whatever crisis the country may be called upon to face, it will face it, no matter what degree of sacrifice it may be called upon to make. Let us feel as far as it is possible free to criticise and free to expose. Can there be anything wrong by public statement implying that all is not well with the Army, and that something ought to be done? I would even go so far as to say that a description of the administration as bad and rotten would be justified under the circumstances, and yet this would lay the person making such a statement open to prosecution at once. As the British race, we believe in retaining as much freedom of the subject as it is possible to do, and I feel that unless the Government is desirous of giving fresh encouragement and a new lease of life to the few real criminal disturbers of the Army, they had better withdraw this Clause. These men will otherwise go to the public and say to the mothers, "Your 1272 sons are writing home to you, but the Army Act will prevent you making known any grievances that they write to you about." And you will at once find a state of suspicious thought created.
Remember these people were out to do all they could for the War. If you block the channel for their giving public expression to their feelings they will at once resort to subterannean methods, and that they will by cunning devices do more harm than it will be possible for them if they were allowed to speak. Let us give them English fair-play, freedom of expression, and of criticism—helpful criticism let us hope. One would not like it to be laid down that criticism should be stifled, though one would hope that at all times it would be helpful criticism. I can well remember an incident during the War where a man in the excitement of the moment gave expression to a certain sentiment. He was at once vindictively punished for it. Within two months of that circumstance that man was praised for having given expression to the sentiments he had. You will possibly have that sort of thing if you are allowed to be at the mercy of the mere parochial policeman, or of the detective working under some Sub-department of Army Administration who will find his way into meetings, take shorthand notes, and alter the meaning of sentences which, when read out coldly before a justice of the peace, will be sufficient to condemn the man who has uttered them, while at the same time his intentions were honourable and his criticisms were designed to be helpful, with no desire in him but to remedy some grievance or other. He would be open to be laid hold of, charged, convicted, fined or imprisoned, for ever after described as an enemy of his country and of his class, and a man who was not fit to reside in the nation which gave him birth. Let us keep that amount of freedom that Britishers, as a general rule used fairly, righteously, and decently—during the War. You had no complaint to make during the War which was a difficult and a very serious period. Now that, as we hope that serious side has receded, and will soon disappear from view for ever, do let us retain the full liberty of the subject and freedom to the soldier to express what is within him. The soldier who has the longest catalogue of complaints against him, the one that swears the hardest, and so on, is usually the best fighting man. I would not stifle, if I could, any expression 1273 of the grievances of himself and fellow soldiers. Also you must have a public expression of opinion on these matters through the public representatives. If your intention is not in some way to effect this, the people outside will believe that that is your intention. You will do better not to insist upon the Clause, but to leave us with the Regulations that already give protection against interference with he-cruiting and with the real discipline and effectiveness of the forces You have power enough in them to cope with any trouble or difficulty that may arise.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Judging this discussion from its outset—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up, we cannot hear a word"]— we may, on both sides, be exaggerating the importance of the issue at stake. I cannot for my part deny that a very great body of legal structure remains at the disposal of the Government irrespective of this Clause. For instance, we have full power under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. Then we have the permanent powers of the Army Act in regard to recruiting which makes it an offence liable to a fine on summary conviction—Directly or indirectly to interfere with the recruiting for the Services.With regard to paragraph (b), which is a most important Sub-section, the only complaint at issue between us and the Committee is the difference between that Sub-section and the permanent law of the land. We have the Mutiny Act of 1797, which is infinitely more severe than anything which is contained in this provision. Let me read the provision:—Any person who shall maliciously and advisedly endeavour to seduce any person or persons serving in His Majesty's Forces, by sea or land, from his or their duty and allegiance to His Majesty, or to incite or stir up any such person or persons to commit any act of mutiny, or to make or endeavour to make any mutinous assembly, or to commit any traitorous or mutinous practice whatsoever, shall on being legally convicted of such offence, be adjudged guilty of felony—for which the maximum punishment is penal servitude for life. That is the permanent law of the land. The only difference which is involved in the passage of this temporary provision in the Army (Annual) Bill is that it introduces the word "disaffection" in regard to much smaller offences in addition to the great body of law which we have. Of course, mutiny is any number of soldiers, that is more than two or three, coming together in defiance to do some act or take some course in defiance of lawful 1274 authority. Therefore, as I say, there is a very great body of law, not only of emergency, up-to-date law, lapsing with the Defence of the Realm Regulations, but the permanent and statutory law of the country which already safeguards the discipline of the armed forces. So that I do not want to exaggerate the consequences which will ensue from the non-inclusion of this Clause in the Act. On the other hand, I must say when we survey the ample powers which have been in existence, and when we look back upon the actual practice of the last few years, it is rather absurd to hear the kind of speeches that we have heard to the effect that a man must not even ask a question of the War Office, or tell his Constituents he is going to do so, without immediately being haled off and given two years' imprisonment with hard labour. We have not exceeded the administration of the provisions in this Clause which is included in this Bill. There has been criticism in this country. As I have said, there was a state of almost general—well, I will not use that word—but there was criticism that produced widespread mutiny in many parts of the Services.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Because it was thought proper to proceed by other measures to deal with the evil. We did so. The persons who were engaged in this criticism, when they saw the evil consequences of their levity, immediately came to the aid of the Government, and ceased that course of agitation which was demoralising and causing the disaffection, in the Army. That is quite true. But what I am pointing out is this, that an ample number of occasions have existed during the present War which have been used to a very great, if not to a dangerous, extent in some cases. On these occasions the Government have not invoked or utilised the powers of prosecution. How many prosecutions, I should like to know, have there been under these full powers? I believe, although I have not verified them, you could count them on the fingers of one hand. Yet we are to be told," You are seeking to muzzle the free expression of the grievances of the soldier." The thing is absurd! I believe this is the right thing to do. If the House were to allow the inclusion of this Clause in the Army Act and to carry it forward until we can reconsider the matter this time next year, when we shall be much 1275 more able to judge what the state of affairs in the world is going to be, I have not the slightest doubt that that would be a wise and prudent course. On the other hand, I cannot stand up here and say that we cannot carry on the administration of the Army without it. In view of that fact, I feel myself bound to take into consideration the very strongly pronounced opinion that has manifested itself in all quarters of the House. I do not at all take the view that Parliament has to accept whatever the Government proposes. It is no use if Ministers are not prepared to be guided by the sense of the House in any matter which is not absolutely vital. I cannot say that this Clause is absolutely vital to the Army. I think it would be valuable. Having regard, however, to the considerable body of legal provision to which I have referred, and the strong expression of opinion from all parts of the House, I will not oppose the opinion which has been expressed. I am quite willing to allow the Clause to be withdrawn.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The Committee will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for realising the opinion of the vast majority of the Members here I must say I am sorry he did not make the withdrawal with a little more grace if I may say so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I think so. I think my right hon. Friend would have been well advised to have based his change of attitude entirely upon the opinion of the House. He criticised us, certainly towards the end of his speech, and I think his attitude in that respect was not justified. What, however, I lose to say was this: that I think my right hon. Friend will do well at all times to recognise the opinion of the House of Commons, as I am sure he will, against his advisers in Whitehall. I can quite understand that this Clause was not the Clause of my right hon. Friend himself. I think I can see the battle between my right hon. Friend and the bureaucrats of Whitehall, even before this Clause itself was embodied in the Bill. I would ask him in future to exercise his own individual opinion, and not allow himself to be too much influenced by the permanent officials. The Committee have done well in opposing this Clause. It allows the country to see that we are not going to give full, unfettered power to any Govern- 1276 ment, however strong or powerful. I would say to my right hon. Friend that he might well, when he goes back to the War Office, give instructions for a board to be put up there bearing a motto, "Beware of bureaucrats."
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
As one who moved this Amendment we have been discussing I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathetic attitude. I am certain of this, that the action he has taken this afternoon will in no wise undermine the stability and the power of the Army. On the other hand, I think it will tend to strengthen the Army rather than to weaken it. I think the course which the right hon. Gentleman has taken is the proper one in the interests not only of the Army but of the country, and on behalf of the party I represent, I want to congratulate him upon the line he has taken.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.