HC Deb 02 April 1919 vol 114 cc1241-7

In Sub-section (1) of Section forty-six of the Army Act (which relates to the proceedings upon investigation of a charge), after the words "for bringing the offender to court-martial" there shall be inserted the words "or in the case of an officer below the rank of field officer may refer the case to be dealt with summarily by a general officer under the provisions of this Act."

4.0 P.M.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir J. HOPE

I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, and in paragraph (a), of Sub-section (2), after the word 'pay,' there shall be inserted the following words, 'or may order that the offender forfeit all ordinary pay for a period commencing on the day of the sentence, and not exceeding twenty-eight days.' In the present Act in peace time the commanding officers can award twenty-eight days' detention or twenty-eight days' confinement to barracks, or he can award certain definite fines, or he can on conviction for an offence automatically sentence a soldier to forfeit pay for the days he is absent. The last two powers-are not at the discretion of the commanding officer, but are automatically fixed. In war-time there is a power given to the commanding officer to deprive a soldier of pay up to twenty-eight days without any other punishment. That is only allowed in war-time. In peace time a commanding officer can award a soldier detention up to twenty-eight days, which in itself carries deprivation of pay for those days, but the commanding officer is in this position, that while he can award the soldier detention and deprive him of pay, he cannot, if he wishes, deprive him of his pay without sentencing him to detention. My Amendment is to provide in peacetime, as in war, that the commanding officer should have the power to-award a fine instead of imprisonment. I think it will be most desirable. It has been found useful during the War. There are many cases of offences in which the officer's only alternative is to send a soldier to detention in peace time. During the War commanding officers have been able by depriving a soldier of so many days' pay. There are many cases where a commanding officer would have felt reluctant to have given detention if he could have punished the man without sending him to detention. This Amendment simply gives the commanding officer the option of awarding a fine instead of imprisonment in certain cases. I would point out to the House that in any case the soldier has the right, of appeal to a court-martial, or rather the officer dealing with such a case, if he intends to award punishment which will carry any deprivation of pay, may ask the soldier whether he is prepared to take his award or whether he would prefer court-martial. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the soldier prefers to be dealt, with by his commanding officer. I point that out to show that there can be no wish of any injustice to the soldier, and I am moving this Amendment in the interests of the soldier. There might be many cases in peace time in which the soldier will have to be awarded detention. The commanding officer will be able to award him a deprivation of pay instead. I would further point out that in war-time this deprivation of pay is in addition to any other punishment. If hon. Members will read Section 462 (c) of the Army Act, they will see the last sentence reads: And may, in addition, or without any other punishment order the defender to forfeit all ordinary pay for a period commencing on the day of sentence and not exceeding twenty-eight days. My Amendment, which comes into 462 (a), would read, may award the defender detention for any period not exceeding twenty-eight days, or may order that the offender forfeit all ordinary pay for a period commencing on the day of the sentence, not exceeding twenty-eight days. I am aware that perhaps the Secretary of State may not be prepared to give a definite reply, but I would like to hear what he says. I do not wish to press the Amendment now if he will consider the question. It might be necessary, if this was carried, slightly to amend the King's Regulations in regard to the powers of the commanding officer. In the interests of the soldier and of discipline it might be desirable that this power should be given to the commanding officer in peace time as it has been found useful in war time and has saved in many cases the necessity of sending a soldier to detention.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)

I do not think this would do at all. My hon. and gallant Friend asks whether I can give a direct and final answer on the subject, and I really find no difficulty in doing so. The forfeiture of pay is a very dangerous subject, and one on which the private soldiers of the Army are extremely sensitive. As the House knows, in time of peace practically the only forfeiture of pay not accompanied by a sentence of imprisonment is forfeiture in the shape of a fine for drunkenness according to scale. My hon. and gallant Friend proposes to carry on in peace a practice which has been legalised in war of forfeiting pay apart from a sentence of detention or imprisonment. He is not, I think, quite squarely facing the real circumstances. In war, on active service, the soldier is maintained in all respects by the State. He has rations, and everything he requires. There is no vital need for a man to spend anything when he is serving in the field, and in an enormous number of cases, no matter how much money a man has in his pocket, he cannot spend any. Therefore, sentence of forfeiture can be inflicted without absurdity.

But when you come to peace these conditions no longer prevail in the same way. The soldier is living in a garrison town, in England, in the barracks, and so forth where he may be deprived of his pay for twenty-eight days. If a man is imprisoned he does not need any pay, bur if he has to be kept in barracks as a free man to go out as he desires without any pay at all, I do not know what position you are putting this man in; you are exposing him to extraordinary temptations, you are almost certainly getting him into trouble when he gets out of barracks and has not a penny in his pocket—I suppose the statutory penny would be paid to him, but apart from that he would have nothing in his pocket, and yet he would be with comrades who are indulging in the ordinary pleasures and amenities of daily life. I say you would put a premium on desertion or on acts of dishonesty which might easily tend to demoralise the soldier. You must provide for a man when he is in your charge. If he has done wrong he may have to be put in detention, but then he is provided for. To keep him in time of peace in full freedom for twenty-eight days and to give him no pay would not only be leading straight up to a cause of crime but would perhaps be the undoing of men who are thoroughly good soldiers and good citizens.

Colonel ASHLEY

Surely the Secretary of State has fallen into an error in an otherwise admirable argument. Unless I am misinformed, hundreds and thousands of soldiers during the War have had their pay stopped, and I have not noticed or heard that there has been any abnormal amount of desertion. The argument is not so strong as he imagines, as it has happened to hundreds and thousands of soldiers. All that my hon. and gallant Friend wished was to help the soldier and to find some means to remedy as far as possible the taint of imprisonment. If by some means we could find a formula which would enable the commanding officer in matters of not very serious crime to inflict a money punishment without inflicting detention, I think we should be doing a good work and satisfying the feelings of everybody in the country. I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentlemen who are in the House to give their experiences and so help us in the solution of this matter.

Lieutenant-Colonel WILLOUGHBY

I think deprivation of pay would be much better than sending a man to detention. It seems to me it would be better to have the power of inflicting deprivation of pay without having to send a man to detention. I think the Secretary of State would be well advised to consider whether he cannot accept the Amendment.

Colonel Sir A. SPROT

I should like to support the Amendment, which, I consider, is brought forward in the interests of the soldier. The commanding officer, according to the hypothesis, is about to punish a man. The question is whether he is going to give him a severe punishment, which will involve deprivation of pay, or whether he is merely going to stop his pay for a day or two. The course suggested in the Amendment has this additional advantage, that if you give a man detention you deprive the country of his services for a certain time, whereas if you merely fine him he is ready to do his duty right off. I would like to support the Amendment in the interests of the soldier himself.


Speaking as an ordinary regimental officer who has frequently been confronted with the necessity to administer justice to the private soldier, I desire to endorse the remarks which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. I think there is no subject on which the private soldier is so peculiarly sensitive as the subject which affects his pocket. I have always noticed that there is a latent suspicion in the mind of the private, when a fine is imposed on him, that the money in some way benefits those in authority. There is always that suspicion. It is quite groundless and without any possible foundation, but it is there, and there is nothing in ordinary regimental life which is so well known as the rooted objection of the private to a fine. As the right hon. Gentleman says, fines are enforced for the crime of drunkenness and for no other offence. If a private soldier gets detention, he realises that he is doing no work for the country through his crime and that he deserves no pay. I do not think there is any feeling in his mind that he has in any way been robbed, but I think it is a very dangerous course to give power to a commanding officer to administer fines of this nature and to interfere with the men's pay. It would give rise to very grave cause of unrest in the Army.

Colonel GREIG

I notice that in Section 46 of the Act, where a commanding officer deals summarily with a case, he may award detention for a period not exceeding twenty-eight days and in addition may order the defendant to suffer any deduction from his ordinary pay. It would be ill-advised, I think, to add to these deductions. When you turn to Sections 138 and 140 the classes of deduction are very carefully laid down, and they have evidently been carefully thought out.


It is not at all true to say that the troops at home have not been on active service conditions. They have been. Anyone forming an opinion as to what has gone on during the War would be misled as to the position existing in the Army in time of peace. Nor is there any basis for the idea, which perhaps exists in some quarters, that a commanding officer has to choose between sending a man to detention or else not being able to deal with him, and that this forfeiture of pay will provide a via media. The whole apparatus of reprimand, extra drill parades, extra guards, pickets, and confinement to barracks, remains open before you get to the point where you need send a man to prison. I do hope the House of Commons will regard the pay of the private soldier as sacred, because if you can take away that pay at the will of a commanding officer you will not get out of the mind of soldiers that someone is having a profit out of them, and that it is an unfair way of taking away money which they have earned.


I think that there is much strength in the argument put forward by the Secretary of State. I have had many complaints sent on during the course of the War, not only about the forfeiture of pay, but what was of more vital importance to the soldier was the forfeiture of the separation allowance to his wife and dependants, when the soldier was guilty of any breach of Army Regulations. I rose for the purpose of asking the Secretary of State to consider seriously, between now and the Report stage, introducing an Amendment which will take away the power, either of the officers or for the Army authorities in any shape or form, forfeiting the separation allowance to wife and dependants for a breach of Army Regulations by the soldier.


I do not wish to press this Amendment. I moved it entirely to raise the question. I still think that it might in many cases have given the commanding officer extra power of dealing leniently with a soldier and saving the soldier being sent to prison. There are cases where the commanding officer is reluctant to send a man to detention, but does not think that in justice he can pass over the case by confinement to barracks, because it is a serious offence, and I thought that this might give an opportunity to the commanding officer to deal in a proper way with such cases. But, in view of what has been said, I do not desire to press the question. I shall be very glad to support the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Fife in reference to separation allowance for wife and dependants.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.