HC Deb 02 April 1919 vol 114 cc1284-90

In paragraph (e) of Sub-section (2) of Section 180 of the Army Act, which relates to the application of the Army Act to His Majesty's Indian Forces, after the words "court-martial," there shall be inserted the words, "or where the case is dealt with summarily under the provisions of this Act the authority having the power so to deal with the case."—[Mr Forster.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

On Clause 6 we gave certain powers to general officers, and it was not noticed at the time that they were not applicable to the Indian Army. This new Clause is to give the general officer in India the same power that is given to the general officer at home.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

The following Clauses stood on the Paper in the name of Major HAYWARD: Section forty-six of the Army Act (which relates to the powers of a commanding officer) shall be amended as follows: Leave out from 'may award' to first 'twenty-eight days and' in Sub-section (2) (d). Section forty-four of the Army Act (which relates to scale of punishments by courts-martial) shall be amended as follows: After the word 'flogging' insert 'and other than personal restraint by being kept in irons or other fetters,' in proviso (5). Leave out 'shall be of the character of personal restraint or of hard labour,' and insert 'may be of the character of hard labour'


The two Clauses standing in my name on the Paper both deal with the question of field punishment No. 1. I have handed in, in substitution for these new Clauses, others dealing with precisely the same question, but which probably are in a more accurate form, and perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I first deal with the second, relating to Section 44, which deals with the general question. I think it was either last year, or the year before, in this House that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who was then representing the War Office, reminded us, quite rightly, that this question of field punishment No. 1 was the responsibility of Parliament. If it is not the creation of Parliament itself, it is an adopted child, because Clause 44 of the Army Act as it stands provides that where a soldier on active service is guilty of any offence, then there can be inflicted such field punishment as is there referred to, and it specifically provides that such field punishment shall be of the character of personal restraint or of hard labour, but shall not be of a nature to cause injury to life or limb. That is taken from the Clause of the Act of Parliament itself. Being exceedingly jealous to safeguard the interests of the soldier, Parliament went on to provide in the same Clause that all rules with respect to field punishment made in pursuance of this Section shall be laid before Parliament as soon as practicable after they are made. Therefore, Parliament not only passed the first Clause authorising a special kind of punishment, but adopted and sanctioned particular rules afterwards. I say this in order to remind the Committee that this is the creation of Parliament. Parliament is responsible for its continuance, if it is going to be continued, and I am going now to appeal to Parliament to exercise its prerogative of removing it. These rules provide for two classes of field punishment. Under the rules dealing with No. 1 a man can be kept in irons, fetters or handcuffs, or both fetters and handcuffs, and may be secured so as to prevent his escape, and straps may be used in lieu of irons. When in irons he may be attached to a fixed object. Field punishment may be given for periods up to three months, and the tying-up part of the punishment may be spread over that period as follows: He may be tied up for two hours a day. He may be tied up for three consecutive days out of four, and he may be tied up in this way for twenty-one days in all. During the whole of that period of the sentence he will not only be subjected to this particular form of punishment, but he will also be undergoing imprisonment with a very severe kind of hard labour in addition.

All I have to say about field punishment No. 2 is that it consists of hard labour imprisonment, without the objectionable form of tying-up the man to which I am calling attention. The Chief Secretary for Ireland on the last occasion deprecated any attempt to deal with the question at that time, seeing what the position on the Western Front was, and we refrained from dealing with it then. I venture to suggest, however, that the time has now come when Parliament should very properly review this matter. It might be said this might very easily lend itself to prejudice. I submit that is not a proper view to take of the case at all. Anybody who knows anything about this subject cannot think of it or even speak of it without feelings of intense shame, humiliation and resentment. I should like to tell the Committee what I have heard a very distinguished general say about that particular form of punishment, but that would be quite impossible, even with the most elastic interpretation of Parliamentary language. I have told the Committee what the Act and the rules provide. What really happens is this. The man is sentenced to a period of field punishment No. 1. While he is undergoing his sentence he is pulled out from time to time, three consecutive days at a time, for two hours, and tied up to some fixed object, tied up by the hands and tied up by the feet. I have seen men tied up in the public streets in France and to gateways facing the street, and French civilians and French children passing during that time. I have seen men tied up to sign posts in the middle of French villages.


It is entirely wrong and contrary to Regulations.


The right hon. Gentleman says it is entirely wrong and contrary to Regulations. I am not quite sure. Is there a recent Regulation?


Yes, there is a regulation.


I am glad to hear that, because I have seen these things myself and I only called attention to them because I thought there had not been another regulation made upon the subject. I am exceedingly glad to know that that very objectionable feature no longer exists; but I suggest that the features which still remain are, if not equally objectionable, so objectionable that they ought to be removed. Let me remind the Committee that this punishment does not only happen to your vicious, hardened man, the man who is rebellious and whose hand is against everybody. It happens to the very decent man who has been unfortunate enough to come up against Army discipline in some way or another. I know it has happened to decent men. I know men of that type who have undergone this very terrible punishment. Whatever kind of man it happens to and for whatever crime, what should be the object of the punishment? I suggest—and I think the right hon. Gentleman will not disagree with me—that the object of all punishment should be remedial and deterrent only. Let us apply that test. First of all, what is the effect of this kind of punishment upon the man himself? Take your vicious, thoroughly bad fellow—the shameless, hardened sinner. This kind of punishment has very little effect upon a man of that description, because the real sting of field punishment No. 1 is not in the physical discomfort, it is the moral degradation and the humiliation. Therefore it has very little effect upon your thoroughly hardened sinner. The real torture is not to the body; the real torture is soul-torture. What are its effects upon your thoroughly decent fellow? The effects upon him are of the very worst possible description. The iron enters his soul, and when he has been subject to this punishment his heart, if not his hand, is against all men for a very long time to come. For evermore he is a humiliated, degraded man, and it is no use to tell me that it is not so. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have very decent fellows in my mind now. I have one I am particularly thinking of—a man I knew thoroughly well in the regiment, a good fellow—who for some trivial offence had been subjected to a period of field punishment No. 1. I saw him undergoing the punishment and he saw that I saw him, and ever afterwards when I met him a look came into his eyes like the look of a wounded, stricken dog. That is the effect of this punishment on the decent man.

So much for the effect upon the man who receives the punishment. What is the effect upon others? What is the effect upon the other soldiers who see it? I believe one of the excuses for this sort of punishment is that it is a deterrent and a terrible example to others. It is a terrible example to others, but the real effect upon everyone who sees it is to fill them with loathing, with indignation, with disgust and with a feeling of revulsion. I was told by a very gallant officer not very long ago, an officer who was wearing six wound stripes, who had been through and had seen all the horrors of the War, who had been blown up and buried in the trenches; in fact, there was nothing about the War that was terrible that he had not seen, and he told me that of all the things that he had seen, the only thing that had made him really physically sick was when he first saw field punishment No. 1 being administered. Words would absolutely fail me to describe my own felings when I saw it. I say that these effects are not remedial and are not deterrent. They are degrading and humiliating both to the soldiers who are subject to the punishment and to those who see them.

May I deal with another phase of this question? For what offences is this punishment given? I have heard the suggestion again and again that this form of punishment is only meant and is only given for very serious crimes in the Army, for crimes which probably in England would not be serious but which on active service are very serious. But this form of punishment can be given for the most trivial offences as well as for the most serious offences. One of the very serious defects in the Army Act is that that can be so. You have different commanding officers with different views giving different punishment for the same offence, so that you have not only inequality in the administration of justice in the Army but that inequality causes a great deal of misgiving and dissatisfaction amongst the troops. I think it is within the memory of many hon. Members who were in the last House that attention has been called to cases where the punishment has been inflicted for the crime known as trotting mules. The Army is such a wonderful organism that although you have mastered the Army Act, as you thought, and were familiar with its offences, yet by merely making an order you can make anything in the world a military offence. It was made a military offence to trot mules. A very proper order, but was it a proper thing that for a breach of that order a man should be liable to this very terrible punishment! Certainly not! However, I understand it was done in cases referred to in this House. Again, I believe it was given for losing iron rations. It is a serious thing to lose iron rations, although anybody who has been in a regiment knows it is a very difficult thing not to lose those rations under service conditions. It has been given for losing a tin hat. Is that serious enough to merit this punishment? I know cases where twenty-one days' field punishment were given for simple intoxication whether in the line or out of the line. Is it suggested that that is a proper case for the infliction of this punishment? Of course, it is not! Moreover, this very serious penalty can be inflicted not only by a Court but by a commanding officer for any offence.


Field punishment No. 1 can only be given by a commanding officer, subject to the man's right to elect to be tried by court-martial.


That is so, but the men do not appeal. Very few of the men know about the powers of appeal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I will accept the correction, but the fact is that this punishment is given by commanding officers for these offences and that the men do not appeal but suffer the punishment. That is not denied, and I say that is a state of things which this Committee and the House of Commons, which is responsible, ought certainly not to allow. Many very distinguished generals are absolutely of opinion that this form of punishment is very bad and absolutely unnecessary. What is the case for field punishment No. 1? What was the case made out last year and by an hon. Member the other night? It is that you must have, as is undoubtedly the fact, some severe form of punishment which can be inflicted quickly and in the line, without taking away too many men from the line, and which will be sufficiently severe to be a deterrent. That is not disputed. That must be so. Everybody is agreed upon that; but I have heard a very distinguished general say that he believes that field punishment No. 2—that is, the hard labour punishment-could be administered so severely as to be just as good punishment as a deterrent as field punishment No. 1. The reason is also put forward that if you had not got this form of punishment there would be many more sentences of death by court-martial. Has it come to this, that it is beyond the wit of man and beyond human ingenuity to devise anything between tying up a man and shooting him? Is there no other alternative? I move this Amendment, because it will, first of all, if it is passed, do away with this very objectionable form of punishment. It will at the same time leave the War Office open to devise other means of field punishment which shall secure the objects desired and which shall be free from this terrible reproach, and will enable them to come back to us with fresh Rules to be laid before the House.