After Section one hundred and fifty-six of the Army Act, the following Section shall be inserted:
Provided that nothing in this Section shall be deemed to prohibit the wearing or supply of ordinary regimental badges or any brooch or ornament representing the same.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I beg to move, in paragraph (a), after the word "medal" ["decoration or medal"] to insert the words "medal ribbon."
I apologise for this slight omission in the drafting. The object of this Clause is really a very important one. We know how much all these emblems of gallantry are prized by the country, and it is necessary that they should be protected against fraudulent and spurious use by quite severe penalties, so that the men will be all the more proud of the right to wear them, and will not be misled by others who profit by use of these decorations. We have included all symbols of military prowess, including wound stripes and all decorations, emblems, and medals. We want to make certain that when we see a man wearing two or three wound stripes and a medal, that we see a man whom everybody in the country is proud of.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In paragraph (a), after the word "medal" ["medal, badge, wound stripe, or emblem"], to insert the words "medal ribbon."
§ In paragraph (b), after the word "medal," insert the words "medal ribbon."
§ Major CHRISTOPHER LOWTHER
I beg to move in paragraph (c) to leave out the words "lawful authority or excuse," and to insert instead thereoflicence granted by the Secretary of State for War or Air.My excuse for moving this Amendment is that I have had a certain amount of practical experience in the working of this particular Sub-section, and I found that in practice it was a very difficult Sub-section to work. The Sub-section deals with a man who "without lawful authority or excuse supplies or offers to supply any such decoration, medal, badge, wound stripe or emblem." The first two paragraphs are admirable because they deal with the men who wear ribbons and decorations to which they 1278 are not entitled, and personate those whom they are not entitled to personate. The main difficulty is that it is so easy for those who wish to obtain these decorations to purchase them, and for twopence you can purchase a medal ribbon in many shops all over the country, and it is difficult to stop the sale of these ribbons. Proof of what I say may be seen almost anywhere in any large town, where you can see numbers and numbers of shops which supply wound stripes, decorations, chevrons, and all the rest of it at a low price, and it must be perfectly obvious that the number of decorations awarded could not possibly be sufficient to enable these shops to carry on in a perfectly legitimate way and they must sell a large amount of medal ribbon, wound stripes, chevrons and so on, without making proper inquiries.
On certain occasions it was my duty to institute proceedings against shops that did this particular kind of business, and it was extremely hard to get a case. We had to resort to those means which are repugnant to everybody in this country—that is, we had to be the agent-provocateur. We had, in order to set up a case to send someone to buy the ribbons, secure the evidence and then start a prosecution, and a case supported in that way does not meet with favour from the magistrates, and on many occasions the magistrates would say, "We thought all these things were supplied by the War Office, and we had no idea they could be obtained by anybody from a shop, and how is it that more careful supervision is not exercised?" Our answer was always this: This very Sub-section, under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, does not stop the illegal sale of these decorations, and the comment generally was that the thing is in itself rather obscure, and it is difficult to know what "lawful authority or excuse" is, and we hold that the Government should have very much further control over the sale of these particular things.
The purpose of my Amendment is a via media. I recognise that it might cause hardship in the case of shops where their trade would be suddenly and entirely stopped, and therefore I suppose that some form of licence should be granted by a competent authority to a shop to sell these particular articles, and 1279 on the granting of the licence it should be made perfectly plain to the shopkeeper, and he should be held responsible for seeing that his assistants are cognisant of the requirments which the licence would set out that he should only sell these decorations after he had satisfied himself in certain particular ways. Naturally he would require to satisfy himself that a man was entitled to wear what he says he is entitled to. I realise that I may not have drafted my Amendment in a way that gives effect to what I desire. The Government will recognise that the Sub-section as it stands throws a great responsibility on the police, and if the Government would take into their hands greater control over the supply and sale of these decorations, I think that would meet the case.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I am sure that paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Clause will be welcomed throughout the British Army, and every officer will think the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this Clause before the House. As to paragraph (c), I doubt whether it does not go much too far, because it makes it illegal to supply even a wound stripe to anyone not authorised to use or wear the same. That means that a soldier's wife may go out shopping, and she would not be able to buy an inch of ribbon. I think I am dealing with a matter of substance. Is it to be considered illegal to sell even an inch of ribbon unless you can prove that you are entitled to it? There are something like 7,000,000 men who will be entitled to these rights. It is absurd to think that every time they will have the authority with them to prove that they are entitled to it. It certainly ought to be illegal to sell an order or a medal of any kind, but there ought not to be any limitation on the sale of ribbons, or wound stripes, or service stripes, because, if there is, you make quite innocent people liable to the penalties.
We have already wiped out one Clause bringing heavy penalties upon innocent people, but here again we are proposing to inflict penalties upon thousands of shopkeepers throughout the country who will be selling these ribbons to men when the medals are issued, and there are something like 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 of them to be issued. I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Major C. Lowther) would make the Clause even 1280 more strict. He has been a Provost-Marshal, and is all for strengthening the police? We do not want to strengthen the police, but to maintain the liberty of the subject. This Clause proposes unnecessarily to make it a crime, and it is a thing that you cannot possibly carry out. There' is not a little draper's shop in the country that is not selling the 1914 and 1915 ribbon. How are the men to get it otherwise? Are they to write to a London tailor? We must not look at this matter from the point of view of an officer. There are hundreds of thousands of the 1914–15 Star, and directly these new war medals are issued there will be millions of them. Are you going by an Amendment to make a great industry and to give this trade to some special people? The Army Council has quite enough to do already, and does not want to have to give licences to every country draper. I therefore suggest that the Clause should be amended by striking out everything except decorations and medals, and that it should not extend to ribbons. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but there will be millions of these medals and where are the men to get the ribbons from if they cannot go to the local draper?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There is no objection so far as the Government are concerned to their getting the ribbons from any shop. We do not say where they should be purchased, but we do say that they must not be sold to people who have no right to wear them.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
The Clause does not do that. It is not possible for a woman behind a counter to know whether my right hon. Friend has given Private John Jones the right to wear a medal or not. If my right hon Friend will look info it he will see that he is going far beyond anything that is practicable. If he will leave out all reference to ribbons, wound stripes, and so on, and simply make it illegal to sell the Victoria Cross or the Mons Star, I am with him. If a man in the North of Scotland or in the wilds of Ireland wants to get an inch of the new medal ribbon, where is he to get it, and how is he to prove that he is entitled to it?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I do not think that there is so much difficulty as my hon. and gallant Friend seems to suggest. We are all agreed that we must punish the man who wears a ribbon or a decoration to which he is not entitled.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then in paragraph (c) we propose that the man who sells without authority or excuse should also be punishable. I think the Committee must see that it is eminently undesirable that we should have the whole of the shops selling ribbons to anybody who chooses to ask for them.
§ Mr. FORSTER
My hon. and gallant Friend says, "How can you stop it? How are these men to get their ribbons?" There are hundreds of thousands who have been granted the 1914–15 Star and there will be millions entitled to the war medal. If a man is a serving soldier, he can produce some evidence that he is a serving soldier.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then he can produce his discharge certificate. He carries it with him. There is no difficulty about producing it. If you let any shop sell these ribbons to any man who chooses to walk in, you will have the whole population in some towns smothered with ribbons to which they are not entitled. We must do something in the direction of this Subsection, but the Amendment carries the matter too far. I do not think it would be desirable to limit the sale of ribbons to certain selected shops, and it is quite impossible to give the licence of the Secretary of State so broadcast as my hon. and gallant Friend who proposed the Amendment (Major C. Lowther) appeared to suggest. On the whole, taking a reasonable view of things, I do not think that the difficulties to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite drew attention are so considerable as first appears, and I think the words of the Sub-section adequately carry out our intention.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
My right hon. Friend has said that a man would go into a shop with his discharge certificate, but there is nothing about his discharge certificate here—not a word. Here is a private soldier. He has his discharge certificate. His character is good. Miss Somebody or other behind the counter has to consider, Did he get the War medal or not? Did he get the Military Medal? Did he get a Bar? It is ludicrous to suggest such a thing. Call for any man's discharge cer- 1282 tificate and see if there is entered upon it anything to show that the man has the War medal.
§ Mr. FORSTER
The question is whether the shopkeeper has an excuse for selling. If a man walks into a shop, produces his discharge certificate, and asks for a ribbon, no one can say that the shopman has not an excuse for supplying him, but if Tom, Dick, or Harry walks into a shop and produces nothing the shopkeeper has no excuse for supplying him.
§ Captain REDMOND
I desire to support the views put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir I. Philipps). I fail to see how an ordinary shopkeeper, say, a small tailor, in any part of the United Kingdom, can be called upon to make investigations or inquiries regarding a demand for a mere wound-stripe. What would be the nature of those inquiries? Would he have to write a letter to the War Office and ask whether Private So-and-so was entitled to a wound-stripe? It is a ridiculous proposition from the point of view of the shopkeeper, and I imagine that the War Office are content with the amount of correspondence they already have on hand. Do they want to have correspondence rolling in from every quarter of the United Kingdom and the Empire, asking whether this, that, or the other man is entitled to a wound stripe, a service ribbon, or any other form of decoration? It is wrong to place the onus of responsibility, as proposed by this Sub-section, upon the person who supplies the stripe. It is perfectly right and proper, as we have already recorded by passing paragraphs (a) and (b), that nobody shall be permitted to wear any form of decoration to which he is not entitled, but that is an entirely different proposition from penalising a shopkeeper for not making extravagant investigations entailing considerable time, expense and correspondence into every case that comes his way. I do not see the necessity for this Subsection at all. If a man manages to obtain a wound stripe or any other form of decoration surreptitiously, let the blame fall upon him and not upon the innocent shopkeeper or his assistant, who merely performs his work as a shopkeeper and gives the man what he demands. I do not see, therefore, why the suggestion put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend, which I think would have the general support of 1283 the Committee, could not be accepted. It is perfectly true that there have been gross abuses in the past and that there will be in the future in regard to these various decorations, but let the blame be fastened upon the person who commits the abuse and not upon the innocent shopkeeper.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We are under cross fire upon this Amendment. My hon. and gallant Friend attacked us with an Amendment in order to carry out a proposal much more extravagant than that which we put forward, and, having opened up his artillery fire, he has drawn upon our unoffending trenches a considerable counter bombardment from the artillery on the opposite heights. I really think that we might be allowed to state our own case. The provision which we have introduced in these three Subsections affecting the sale of these emblems is only what is the law at present under the Defence of the Realm Acts, so that all these very alarming things which it is suggested might happen and would happen in remote parts of Ireland where apparently in every village they are expecting people to have a complete stock of Victoria Crosses and War medals to meet every contingency, have not occurred in the past, and it is probable will will not occur in the future. The Committee will see that there ought to be some deterrent operative against a regular traffic in decorations. It ought not to be a trade which could be pushed to any extreme with complete immunity. After all, it might become a regular business for a shop to supply people with faked decorations, and thereby deceive the public, and bring discredit upon the Army as a whole, and upon those who have won these decorations, which are so precious that they ought to be safeguarded. I do not think the words of the Clause fail to give every loophole to any innocent man. I should have thought that in almost every ease, except where there was a corrupt and fraudulent trade going on, that would be a complete safeguard against prosecution, and, still more, conviction. But I should regret if there were to be absolutely no penalty for the sale of Victoria Crosses, Conduct medals, Military medals, and to forth, irrespective of any attempt to ascertain whether they were entitled to them, and even possibly with a directly fraudulent intent. Therefore, I hope the Clause may stand, but, in deference to what my 1284 hon. and gallant Friend has said, I am quite willing not to insert the word "ribbon."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I beg to move, in paragraph (c), to leave out the wordsbadge, wound stripe, or emblem.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Remaining Clauses ordered to stand part of the Bill.