§ In Section 44 of the Army Act (which relates to scale of punishments by courts-martial) after the word "flogging" in Sub-section (5) thereof there shall be inserted the words "and other than personal restraint by being kept in irons or other fetters," and the words "and such field punishment shall be of the character of personal restraint or of hard labour "in the same Subsection shall be omitted, and the words" and such field punishment may be of the character of hard labour "shall be inserted in lieu thereof.—[Major Hayward.]
§ Brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I hope the House will not be drawn into a long discussion on this subject. The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting speech, in which he has depicted in terrible colours the objectionable features of this form of punishment, and I can assure him that it is a punishment repugnant to all those who have had to inflict it or who have been responsible for asking Parliament for the necessary powers to enforce it. At the same time, I need not exaggerate the Regulations which were issued under the Rules of Procedure at the beginning of 1917, and which were made so extremely strict that I think there can be no doubt that this punishment cannot in any sense be considered a cruel one.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a most painful and repulsive sight to see men who are comrades going in and out of the line, fighting one day side by side with officers and comrades, and another day being tied up in this way. But it would be a very great wrong to the Army and its administration to suggest that it is in any way a painful physical experience.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think we ought to get that clearly recognised, because the latest Regulations which were issued by my predecessor, in 1917, really reduced the tying to a fixed object to a form rather than to a fact. I have here the Army Council letter, which was written in 1917 on the subject, and it would be a very great pity if it were to be proclaimed, and if the impression should in consequence be formed out of doors, that the officers have been in the custom of inflicting a cruel or barbarous punishment upon the soldiers with whom they have lived on terms happier than those that exist in any Army in the world. At the same time we have a very real difficulty to face in this matter. There are few facilities, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, and as so many Members who have served in the War know, for punishment or anything else in the neighbourhood of the front line. There are no detention barracks, there are no ordinary limits within which men can be confined, and there is very little time. You cannot afford to provide many men to supervise the imposition of any penalty, and there is this driving necessity of war that you must have discipline in face of the enemy. It may well be that this punishment has been used in cases in which it certainly ought not to have been. But I am afraid, if the course which is now recommended had been taken during the War, that it might have led to a greater number of death sentences. I am afraid that if there had been no provision of this kind it is possible that the final penalty might have had to have been exacted in certain cases, as an example to others, rather than as a requital for a really serious breach of the military code.
Therefore, while I am with my hon. and gallant Friend in this matter, I think we should proceed in an orderly fashion. I 1292 think that the time has come when we should now collect the opinions from the Army, officers of various ranks—and not only from the commissioned ranks—and we should see in what way we can revise the rules of procedure so as to see whether any effective substitute can be provided. I do not prejudge this at all. My own feeling is the fact that making a man turn out with his arms and accoutrements, and march smartly up and down under the orders of a drill sergeant for a fixed period once or twice a day would be more desirable, and more of a deterrent for the ordinary man than this degrading punishment inflicted as it is, without the slightest approach to physical suffering, at the present time. That is the opinion I have formed. I should like to carry with us the general opinion of those responsible for maintaining discipline in the Army. Therefore, if it will be agreeable to the Committee, I will give an undertaking that we will institute forthwith a series of inquiries to obtain the opinion of the military authorities in France, here, and in other theatres, with a view to seeing if a substitute can be devised for this form of punishment without impairing the means by which discipline is maintained, and without leaving us with possibly the danger of being drawn, under certain circumstances in another war, into a more free infliction of the death penalty than has been the case in this War. I would suggest that there is no reason why there should be any delay. I will make these inquiries, and see what Amendments can be made to the rules of procedure. Before the end of the present Session the Army Estimates must be put down again in the ordinary course. I think we require another Vote for money, and it will then be open to my hon. and gallant Friend to raise the matter, and we shall have an opportunity of presenting a final, considered opinion to the Committee. I think that is a course which should induce my hon. Friends to allow this Bill now to proceed, and not to ask us to commit ourselves to a departure of this kind which I, like him, would be very anxious to take, before we have had an opportunity of hearing what those who are responsible for the well-being and good order of our Army think about it in view of the experience they have derived in the present War.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I think the whole Committee is indebted to my hon. 1293 and gallant Friend for the temperate and well-reasoned manner in which he has brought forward this Amendment. I can well imagine that the earlier part of the remarks of the Secretary of State for War might very well have been just the same sort of remarks and arguments which were addressed to the House in those days when flogging in the Army was discussed. But I very gladly welcome the tone as well as the matter of the concluding part of his speech. I quite recognise that although there is an Armistice in force at present, the condition of our armies, and indeed the condition of the beligrant countries, is still a dangerous one, and it would be very easy in this House, and outside it, to make speeches and to foment an agitation which, however well founded, might have an effect which none of us really intend. That I recognise, and we must carry that in our, minds, with a sense of responsibility in discussing a matter of this kind, carrying as it does the sentiment and feeling of sympathy of every right minded man, no matter in what part of the House he sits. The Secretary of State for War has made a suggestion and, for the information of my right lion. Friend (Mr. Adamson), who has just come in, and who, I know, takes a deep interest in it, I may just repeat it as I understand it. The suggestion was this, that the Secretary of State for War would take the earliest, opportunity—
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
—immediately of garnering the opinion not only of officers of high rank but also of non-commissioned officers. He said that.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
And I will assume there would be no harm at all in getting the opinion also of men in the ranks. Why not? The men in the ranks to-day include men who are of the highest education and who have occupied civilian positions equal certainly to the majority of those of us who are Members of this House. An inquiry of that kind, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, should be immediately held. The result of the inquiry would be taken into immediate consideration by the War Office authorities. He further suggests that he would let us know immediately he is in a position to inform the House of Commons what the result of that is. That being so, he would then quite naturally ask that the Vote should be put 1294 down upon one of the days to which we are entitled, when we could discuss the whole question again.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
It is quite obvious then, the House being, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman woud wish it to be, in a condition freely to express its opinion on the matter, and to carry its opinion to a definite conclusion if necessary, would be able to say whether, in its judgment, this should be continued. The House, after all, is the master even of the Army Council. I would like to make that quite clear. This House and this Parliament is the master of every Department in this State, whatever it is, Army, Navy, Civil Service, and that is a most important matter which we should never lose sight of. Such an inquiry as that, such a consideration as that, such an opportunity as that to this House being made available—I do not know how long it would take, but I should say it ought not to exceed a month or six weeks—then, so far as I am concerned, and my hon. Friends behind me, I should feel it certainly not within my ideas of one's responsibility to press this matter to a Division.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I only rise for the purpose of observing that I think a good many members of the Committee beside myself heard with great pleasure the words at the commencement of the speech of the Leader of the Liberal party. He drew attention to the fact that we are living in a time of great disturbance, in which it is very necessary not to do or say anything in this House or outside which would foment suspicion in the minds of the public, and not to do anything to make the duties of the Government harder than they are. I was very pleased to hear that, and I only regret he did not vote for the Conscription Bill the other day.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am sorry I did not have the pleasure of hearing the statement of the Secretary of State for War. I shall not attempt to answer it, but I am quite pleased to hear that he is prepared to have an inquiry into the question of field punishment No. 1. As the Committee are aware, we have an Amendment on the Order Paper dealing with the subject now under discussion, and our intention was that by the terms of that Amendment we would secure the complete abolition of field punishment No. 1. At the same time, I 1295 am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has so far met the feelings of the Committee as to be prepared to set up a Committee.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Quite. I would urge on the right hon. Gentleman the necessity, in his inquiries, of obtaining the opinions of the men as well as of the officers. This is a punishment which affects the men more seriously than the officers. It is applicable in the case of the men, and I understand that it is not applicable in the case of the officers. I hope that inquiries will be made as to the opinion of the soldiers as well as of the officers.
§ Major HAYWARD
I do not propose to quarrel with the offer of the right hon. Gentleman, who has shown a sympathetic attitude towards the whole of this question. My first doubt was as to whether he could make any alteration without the Army Act being amended, but I find it can be done, and that the Regulations can be amended, though I am afraid that the Act does rather limit him to some extent, because it says that such punishment shall be of the character of personal restraint or hard labour. I hope that my right hon. Friend will get such advice that he will be able to exclude the personal restraint and rely on the hard labour Clause. His views as to that coincide entirely with the views of a general whom I had in mind, when he said he thought that field punishment No. 2 might be made much more severe. My right hon. Friend should make a particular point of getting the opinions of the regimental officers who are absolutely working with and commanding the men. They, after all, know more about what soldiers feel and think than anybody else. In view of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, which I welcome most warmly, I beg leave to withdraw the Clause.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.