§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ 11.0 P.M.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "be" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words "recommitted in respect of Clauses 17 and 22."
This Bill was rather hurriedly put through the Committee stage, and we had 1974 not an opportunity of going fully into the Clause. The party with which I am associated feel that the proposal to raise the sum a soldier has to pay who desires his discharge from the Army from £ 10 to £20 is one which ought to be justified by the War Office. We also think, in connection with Clause 22, that the time has now come when the claims of the father of a child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, ought to be placed on the same footing, and the same allowance ought to be made. If the Government cannot agree to recommit the Bill, perhaps they would agree to take some steps to meet the two suggestions I have made.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Sir Archibald Williamson)
The hon. Member had the Bill in his possession for rather beyond three weeks before the Committee stage
§ Mr. BILLING
Is it in Order, having regard to the fact that an hon. Member has given notice to raise another matter on the Adjournment, that the Army (Annual) Bill should be permitted to be taken after Eleven o'clock?
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
If the hon. Member and those who sympathise with him had desired to put down an Amendment to ensure a discussion on these matters, or if they had, when the Clauses themselves were put from the Chair, risen to ask questions, there would have been, and there was, every possible opportunity to elucidate any point which appeared obscure to them. Therefore I cannot accept the suggestion that there was not sufficient opportunity to consider the points of the Bill.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I am aware of that, but having considered the points of the Bill it is a very short process to draft Amendments which can be handed in in advance of the Second Reading. With regard to the material objection raised to these two Clauses I would point out that the cost of maintaining a soldier has been very greatly raised, and that is particularly applicable to the cost of the 1975 feeding and training of a soldier who forms part of the Air Force and other technical services of that kind. Therefore, it is only right and proper, if a man has selected to go into the Army and he afterwards desires to change his mind, after the Government has spent a very considerable sum of money upon him, that he should pay some more reasonable sum than £10 for throwing up his contract. It must be remembered that a soldier who joins for three months could not live anywhere else for £10. He joins the Army, receives in pay about £12, is clothed, fed and housed, has everything done for him, and thus lives for three months at the nation's expense for £10. He cannot live in any other walk of life for less than £1 a week, therefore, the sum of £10 is quite inadequate. I must oppose the Motion to recommit the Bill on the ground, not only of the merits of the question—which I am quite prepared to defend at length if necessary—but on the ground that every opportunity for discussion was given to the House.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. and gallant Friend was present in the interests of the Navy; he is always present when the question of discipline, such as courts-martial, is involved. It is not fair to say that we had proper opportunity, in view of the business that was announced before Easter. We were told that the business we should take after Easter would be; on Monday, small Bills; on Tuesday, munitions; on Wednesday, the Austrian and Bulgarian treaties; and on Thursday, transport. The hon. Member (Mr. Tyson Wilson) and myself represent the two sections of the Opposition. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh as long as they like, but they will not stop our opposition.
§ Mr. HOGGE
When the hon. Members interrupt in Parliamentary form I will 1976 reply in a Parliamentary way. Neither my hon. Friend (Mr. Wilson), myself, nor the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) were consulted by the Government in regard to this Bill. My Noble Friend (Lord Edmund Talbot) is always meticulously polite in the arrangements made between the Government and the Opposition.
§ Lord EDMUND TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
I was certainly under the impression notice had been given that we should take the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill directly we got back, but if the hon. Member says that is not so I accept his statement.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My noble Friend takes a wider view than some hon. Members below the Gangway. He is wrong in assuming that we had fair notice. On the merits, in Clause 17, you have the amount for the purchase of discharge raised from £10 to £20. Most of these cases—as happened during the War—will be cases of boys who, without the consent of their parents, joined the Army, and who, during the War, because of the extremity of the nation, were kept in the Army. In nearly all these cases the amount required for discharge must be paid by the parents, and it is monstrous that the amount payable should' be doubled on these people, who have spent a great deal on their sons who may be undergoing apprenticeship or attending technical schools, and may be induced by the many means, which all of us know, to join the Army. It is points of this kind that have missed adequate discussion because of the way that this Bill was forced on the House. My hon. Friend will agree that we want business done in this House by co-operation, and I would suggest that in an hour or two on another day he would get far more, if sufficient notice is given, than if we are asked at eleven o'clock at night to take the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. BILLING
I rise to object principally to the increasing habit of the Government of introducing most important business a few minutes before eleven o'clock. I happened this afternoon to be in company with an hon. Member who takes a deep interest in this Bill. One of the Junior Whips was present. The hon. Member asked, "Is 1977 there any danger of the Third Reading of the Army (Annual) Bill being taken to-night?" and the Junior Whip assured him that he could go home with an easy conscience, as the matter would not be raised. I say "Shame!" Of course I know that were I adopting the same principles as those which inspire the ardent supporters of the Government, who no doubt by their acclamation will in due course qualify for positions, even if minor ones, in the Administration, I should proceed at once to read the Clauses to the House. I do not propose to do that; I do not propose to qualify either as an obstructionist or as a junior member of the Government. Neither of those positions has any attractions for me. What I do feel in all seriousness is that the Government are not taking the Opposition—without reasonable opposition they cannot hope to keep the narrow path of virtuous administration—seriously, in rushing measures through in this manner, I know it is utterly impossible for me to prevent them from doing it to-night. Were it possible for me to do so by speaking until 11.30 I should certainly tax what ability I have in performing what I regard as a public duty, but if I spoke until 3 o'clock in the morning, directly I sat down, if no other Member rose, they would get their Third Reading. I do not wish to enter into the by-play and side-talk of those who have spent more of their time in other parts of the House, but I protest against this method of legislating. Only twenty minutes ago, when criticism of the administration of the. Ministry was getting a little too engaging they withdrew a Vote at 10.55 and prevented other Members from speaking.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
On a point of Order. Has the hon. Gentleman made one single remark upon the question of the recommittal of the Bill?
§ Mr. BILLING
As an independent Member who rejoices in an almost unique position, I protest strongly against the lack of respect which the present Government shows to the Parliamentary procedure of this honourable House.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I hope the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment 1978 will go to a division, in which I shall support him. I think it is right that a strong protest should be made against this additional turn to the screw of the machinery of the rack, by which the Government are keeping in the Army young lads who ought never to have been taken. In time of war almost anything had to be winked at, but in time of peace the Government is still taking lads of 17 under the pretence that they are 18. I know of a case of a lad who twice tried to enlist and was refused because he was under age. He then found out that in order to get in he must tell a lie and say he was 18. He did so, and the Government say they will keep him, and to get him released it is necessary to pay £20 instead of £ 10. I say it is highly discreditable to the country and the Government. I hope this protest will be made on every possible occasion, and I intend to do so.
I should like to join in the protest against the precipitate action of the Government, but as I must address myself to the Amendment I shall reserve my remarks on that point to a later stage. With regard to the recommittal proposal, I had to-day put before me the case of an old woman whose nine sons fought in the war. Her last son and sole remaining support went into the Army under age, and that old woman is doing what she can to get him out. She is in extreme poverty, and it is absolute irony that she should be charged £10 or £20. It is a poor return to the people of this country, who have given of their best, when they find that the circumstances of domestic life necessitate the return of a young lad who has enlisted under age, and now realises the mistake and the amount of harm he has done his family, that there should be this difficulty in getting him out. It is a scandalous thing that we should make this return to those who have done so much for us. I hope the hon. Gentleman who moved will go to a Division, and thus enable us to record our emphatic protest. I heard some one say just now, "Write to 'John Bull.'" That enables me to say it is because of hundreds of cases of hardship that I join with my friends of the Labour party and the Front Opposition Bench to vote against this iniquity.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I wish to add my protest to those of other hon. Members. In regard to Clause 22, which relates to a 1979 soldier s liability to maintain wife and children, I find it sayswhere the soldier is a Warrant Officer (Class II.) not holding an honorary commission, or a non-commissioned officer who is not below the rank of sergeant—in respect of a wife or children, two shillings and sixpence, and in respect of a bastard child, one shilling and sixpence.To suggest a figure of Is. 6d. for the maintenance of the unfortunate illegitimate child is, I think, nothing short of scandalous. I would appeal to the right hon. Member in charge to see if something cannot be done to revise these Clauses and at all events give some greater measure of justice in instances of this sort. I feel that at this hour of the night it is unfair to treat hon. Members as if they were simply a lot of children instead of men. [An HON. MEMBER: "Children go to bed early."] The hon. Member perhaps has had the advantage of what is termed a good education. In the elementary schools we were always taught that at all events courtesy pays, and it ill behoves an hon. Member to interject such senseless remarks that would perhaps be better understood if they emanated from a person for whom warders may be seeking.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down, I think it should be known that these figures represent a considerable
§ increase on the existing rates. He desires that larger payment should be made in respect of deserted wives and illegitimate children, and no doubt the House would have every sympathy with such people, but there are two or three considerations involved. First of all, we must consider what the man's income is and that he must be left enough for his own necessities, and that a man still remains liable after he ceases to be a soldier for any amount the court may find his wife is entitled to. The hon. Member has spoken as if we were fixing for the first time a figure, but the present figure is only Is. Id., and we are proposing in the Bill to raise that to Is. 6d., which I think is a justifiable increase from the point of view that we have increased the soldier's pay, and therefore it is legitimate and proper that the soldier should be made to realise his responsibility if he has deserted his wife and children, to a greater extent than at present. Therefore the action of the War Office is entirely in accordance with the views of the hon. Gentleman, and it is entirely to carry out his views that this increase has been made.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided; Ayes, 100; Noes, 30.1981
|Division No. 86.]||AYES.||[11.37 p.m.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Peel, Col. Hn. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar||Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool Exchange)|
|Berwick, Major G. O.||Jameson, J. Gordon||Seager, Sir William|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Johnson, L. S.||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Brackenbury, Captain H. L.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Briggs, Harold||Jones, J. T, (Carmarthen, Lianelly)||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Kellaway, Frederick George||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Kidd, James||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Knights, Capt. H. N. (C'berwell, N.)||Stevens, Marshall|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Chadwick, R. Burton||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Lort-Willlams, J.||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)||M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy)||Macquisten, F. A.||Wallace, J.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Mallalieu, F. W.||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Waring, Major Walter|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Morison, Thomas Brash||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Morrison, Hugh||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Falcon, Captain Michael||Morrison, T. B. (Inverness).||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Foreman, Henry||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Nail, Major Joseph||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Ganzonl, Captain Francis John C.||Neal, Arthur||Younger, Sir George|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)|
|Glyn, Major Ralph||O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Palmer, Brigadier-General G. L.||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley|
|Hambro, Captain Angus Valdemar||Parker, James||Ward.|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Lawson, John J.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Billing, Noel Pemberton-||Lunn, William||Sexton, James|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Malone, Lieut.-Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Cape, Thomas||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Swan, J. E.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Murray, Major William (Dumfries)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Finney, Samuel||Palmer, Charles Frederick (Wrekin)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hayward, Major Evan||Rose, Frank H.||Mr. Tyson Wilson and Mr. Hogge.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ Main Question again proposed.
I am sorry to keep the House at this somewhat late hour, but, having been largely responsible for the agitation in the Press which resulted in the appointment by the Government of the Committee of Inquiry into courts-martial, I feel it upon my conscience to oppose the Third Reading of this Bill, and to say what I have to say to-night. I know that any appeal to one's conscience raises derision among certain hon. Gentlemen, and I must ask you, Mr. Speaker, to protect me from the frivolous interruptions of the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. H. Smith).
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order for an hon. Member to accuse another hon. Member of frivolous interruptions in a ease like this, when no word has passed my lips except the words "Hear, hear," which I uttered immediately the hon. Member rose to speak?
I am much obliged, Sir. The point of Order has served my purpose, and now, possibly, I may be allowed to proceed to put before the House the matters which I feel it to be my duty to put before it. The demand which led up to the setting up of that Committee, which laboriously examined the whole matter, was a demand for the power to appeal from the death sentence in the Army. In my opinion it will have to be conceded within no very long time; for, if we do not give the right of appeal 1982 from the death sentence in the Army, there will, in my opinion, be such an agitation in this country as will result in the repeal of the power of inflicting capital punishment in the Army. We have had sufficient experience of what happened in Russia to know that Army discipline, in the last resort, cannot be maintained without the right to inflict the death penalty. It is because I know, from information that reaches me from various parts of the country, of the growing agitation on this question, that I am anxious to tell the House what I believe to be the fact, namely, that, unless the adamantine attitude of the War Office, and the old-fashioned ideas which came out very strongly before that Departmental Committee, are put aside, the day will come when the power of the Army to inflict the death penalty will be withdrawn by this House of Commons. I can well imagine, if our Labour friends sit on the Treasury Bench, that they, understanding better than anyone else the real feelings of the lower classes of this country, will be no party to maintaining an Army with the death penalty among its powers. I feel so strongly convinced of what will happen, unless the Army authorities and this House of Commons will grant the lesser boon, and give to any soldier the power which you give to the commonest—
§ Major O'NEILL
May I ask your ruling, Sir, upon a point of Order? On the Second Reading of this Bill, the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker was that no matter might be referred to except the question whether or not there should be a standing Army. Is it, therefore, in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to these questions of court-martial, which were fully discussed in Committee, on the Third Reading of the Army (Annual) Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
On the Third Reading of a Bill it is open to the House, always, to discuss what is in the Bill, but not what is outside it. On the Second Reading, the 1983 principle of the Bill is the subject that is to be discussed, and, if I may say so, Mr. Deputy Speaker was perfectly right in ruling as he did. Upon the Army (Annual) Bill the rulings are very strict. On the Third Heading, it is open to the House to discuss anything that is contained in the Clauses of the Bill. To round oft what I have said, I may point out that in this Bill there are several alterations with regard to the system of trials by court-martial.
It was because I realised how vital have been the changes in the Bill, and how much they will affect the King's Regulations, and even the Manual of Military Law, that I was. hoping—and I am glad to find that I am right—that I should be permitted to deal with the broad questions raised within the compass of these Clauses. I would like to say a word with regard to another part of the Bill, and that is the Clause which deals with summary evidence. This is another point which has excited a good deal of public attention. The demand that was made before the Committee was that from the very moment a soldier is charged he should have the right of legal protection just as we claimed that the man under sentence of death should have the same right as a civilian—the right of appeal—which appeal in the case of the civilian is to the Court of Criminal Appeal. We claim therefore that immediately a soldier is charged he should have the legal protection afforded by at once taking a summary of the evidence. Here again the recommendations of the majority of the Committee have not been carried out. What has happened is this. In Clause 16 it is laid down that the real investigation of the charge may provide for a written summary of the evidence being taken on oath. But the Bill as it stands utterly fails to meet our demand That demand was not that the evidence might be taken on oath, but that it should be taken on oath just as when a man is taken to a police court and charged a summary of the evidence is taken. No one would dream when a man is in the dock of putting a witness into the box without first swearing him, and we claim that it is essential in the interests of justice that in the Army when a man is charged with an offence he should at once 1984 have legal protection if he chooses to find it. But Clause 16 simply makes it permissive.
There are many other points to which I would like to allude. I am not speaking in any obstructive sense because I honestly believe that many members of the House, who have not studied this question very thoroughly, do not understand quite the strong feeling there is that an earnest attempt should be made not to weaken the discipline of the Army or to do anything which those who understand the nature of the serving soldier know is necessary to keep up within him a proper moral and a right feeling of manhood. We believe that the more we treat the serving soldier as a civilian and a human being, and the less we demand that any one who comes into the army shall surrender his fundamental citizen rights, which we all love and which are part of the constitution of the country, the more we shall make the army popular and the more we shall ensure that if once again we have to face a foe we shall face it with an army even better disciplined, and with a higher moral than the glorious army which from the year 1914 down to 1918 fought for us. This Bill is now going through of course, and I only make my remarks by way of protest against the action of the Government in this matter. The Committee sat and laboriously took evidence; great care was given to the whole mater. Yet the Bill was put down and the Government knowing that, as Mr. Speaker tells us, although this is a measure for the discipline of the army, yet on the Second Beading it is not allowable to utter one word upon that discipline. I suggest it was under these circumstances incumbent on the Government, owing to the technicality which precluded us from raising particular questions of principle on the Second Reading—preparatory to submitting amendments in Committee, to have been a little less precipitate in rushing this Bill through within a period of three days. They took the Second Beading one night, the Committee stage on the next, hardly allowing any time to put down amendments, although they had full knowledge that hon. Members particularly interested in this question who desired to raise several questions were absent by reason of circumstances over which they had no control, and now they are forcing on the Third Reading. 1985 All this rush is quite unnecessary, and yet we are now having a perfunctory discussion after eleven o'clock at night although some of us were assured the Bill would not be taken to-night. I want if I may respectfully to enter my protest against the way in which this Bill has been conducted and I want the House to realise that when next year a similar' Bill comes before us those of us who regard this matter with the utmost seriousness and have some respect for our consciences will feel it our duty to raise these matters at great length and press whatever Government may then be in power to do justice to the serving soldier, to give him that new charter which by his magnificent services in the late war he so richly and deservedly won.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
I want to make a protest against the speech we have just heard. In the first place the hon. Member made assumptions which were not justified by the facts. The first was that it was due to his efforts that the Committee to which he alluded was appointed. I deny that. I say the Select Committee was appointed as a result of a very convincing speech by the hon. and gallant Member for the Moss Side Division of Manchester (Major Hirst). We who were in the House at the time—
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I said it was so in large measure—in the main—to the agitation which I initiated in the Press. It was that that led to the granting of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member now says "in large measure." I accept that as his statement, but I do not accept it as a fact. Although the hon. Member may have initiated a Press campaign, I do not think all his efforts would have had any effect on this House or in the direction he suggests, as I doubt if more than one or two hon. Members ever read the organ of the Press in which that campaign was conducted. I make this protest as one who has served in the ranks on two occasions, and who hopes if war should come about again to further serve in the ranks. My protest is against the utter misconception of the hon. Member himself of opinion in Army ranks on this question of the death sentence. Although the hon. Member did not tell us so, he implied by his words that there was no 1986 appeal against the death sentence, yet there is, as a matter of fact, an automatic series of appeals. We went into this question fully on the Committee stage of this Bill, and therefore it is unnecessary for me to explain the safeguards which the soldier has in a case of that sort.
I would like to emphasise one point which does appeal to all ranks of the Army in this matter, and that is that the ultimate decision whether the death sentence shall be carried into effect does not rest with a court of judges or lawyers sitting to consider both the justice and the law of the case, but it rests ultimately with one human being, who has it entirely in his power to say whether the man shall or shall not suffer the death penalty. That I ask the House to believe is, in the opinion of all ranks in the Army, the greatest safe guard that any man whose life is at stake could have. The procedure through which the process of revision goes from one stage to another has already been explained many times in this House, and if at the intermediary stages the conclusion is arrived at that the sentence should not be commuted, then all the papers and the evidence on which the conviction is based have to be forwarded to General Headquarters. When it arrives there the procedure is that the Judge-Advocate-General, who is in every case a thoroughly-trained lawyer, examines all that evidence from the legal point of view, and if he sees no flaw he passes it on to the Adjutant-General, who then examines it from the point of view of the discipline of the Army. If these officers are both of the opinion that the death sentence should be carried out they make that recommendation to the Commander-in-Chief. I ask the House to picture the frame of mind in which any English General considers a question of that sort! It is to me inconceivable—and I think I speak for every real soldier—in the Army that a Commander-in-Chief will ever have a single death sentence carried out, however bad the case, if it is at all possible to save the man's life We have evidence of that.
The Committee were informed by the Commander-in-Chief in France that in rather more than 89 per cent. of the cases which came to him, eliminating all those that had been commuted on the way by 1987 other authorities, he himself had commuted the death sentence. The Commander-in-Chief in Italy was a member of our Committee, and he informed us—if my memory serves—that he had commuted just over 90 per cent. That is exactly what any soldier would have expected. I should like to protest against the assumption of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Palmer) that he knows anything whatever about the feelings of the ranks in the Army. On a previous occasion I suggested that he had never been in the Army, never had been a Volunteer, or a Territorial, and that when he says he knows the feelings of the Army he bases that statement entirely on letters received by him from soldiers convicted of crime and writing to him as editor of "John Bull." It is unnecessary to say more! I protest, and I shall always protest, against the hon. Member or his associates claiming to speak for the rank and file of the British Army.
§ 12.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
It was not my intention to intervene but really, though I do not wish to join issue with the hon. Member (Mr. Palmer) on the claim he rightly or wrongly made, on behalf of the aggrieved persons who communicate with the journal with which he is identified, or the hon. and gallant Gentleman who objected to that claim, and says that he speaks for the real soldier, I think it is time for someone to address the House who speaks for himself and offers reasons that may commend themselves to the House. Ninety per cent. of commutations of the death sentence seems to suggest something radically wrong in the convictions! If that is the fact, does not that in itself show that the death sentence is given more lightly and with less consideration in the case of the military court-martial than in the ordinary court of law.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I said all these death sentences which have been commuted by the Commander-in-Chief had already passed the scrutiny of the Judge Advocate General as a lawyer and the Adjutant General is responsible for discipline in the Army. Further if these death sentences instead of going to the Commander-in-Chief had gone to the Court of Criminal Appeal I believe there would not have been 90 per cent. of commutations but probably not more than 1 per cent.
§ Mr. BILLING
The last observation of the hon. Member (Mr. Hopkinson) makes the position all the more confusing. I on two occasions have been a soldier—not an officer. If that is what we are to expect of the decisions of courts-martial, that they are such that were an appeal made to a civil Court only 1 per cent. would be repealed, surely there is something amiss with the whole proceedings. Having been court-martialled on two or three occasions, and having been on one occasion convicted of striking a superior officer, it has always appeared to me that in matters of military discipline there was not the same freedom of decision in the Court that there is in civil trials, with which I have also been identified. In time of war possibly drastic measures have to be taken, and sometimes the innocent have to suffer in the interests of the country when an example is necessary; but now we are at peace is it not possible that some weight can be given to the general question of courts-martial? The senior officer is not always right, but the principle of War Office administration is that if he is not always right, it is never possible to prove that he is wrong, because once it is admitted that he is wrong it does more harm to the conduct of the Army than even to punish an innocent person. It is impossible to admit that the senior officer is wrong. In the same way it is impossible to admit that a policeman lies. Of course he could not lie. If he says you are doing fifty miles an hour, you are doing fifty miles an hour. No senior officer could tell a lie at a court-martial I ask the representatives of the War Office in future to try to introduce a more humane administration of courts-martial.
Touching the question of increased payment for discharges which the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Williamson) asked, is it right that we should keep men for three or six months and teach them to be soldiers and then release them on payment of £10. Where else could you get back six months for £10? He could go to gaol for less than that, and he could have a much merrier time in some gaols than in some regiments. But in the event of men being wanted for the Army in future, 1989 he is a much more valuable man with his six months' experience than if he had never been there at all. I am not quite sure that with his six months' service it would not pay the State to give him £10 instead of asking him to pay £20, and if that is not so what is the use of starting on a big Territorial scheme which proposes only fourteen days' training per annum with payment for doing it? If we expect to make men more useful as a military machine with fourteen days' training than three years, how much more useful are men who have done six months' continuous training? These things do not receive the consideration they deserve There are many more matters which hon. Members would like to raise, but they feel that the patience of the House becomes exhausted. That makes none the less the responsibility of such Members as are not absolutely led by the nose by the Government, and there are such Members, strange as it may-appear, and it makes their responsibility none the less if they feel there are certain points they want to put forward, and even risk the chance of incurring unpopularity in getting up even at this late hour to try to do their duty.
The discrimination which is made between legitimate and illegitimate children is a subject which deserves the closest attention. The legitimate child of a warrant officer is entitled to Is. 6d., and an illegitimate child to 11d., the illegitimate child of a private soldier 6d., and a legitimate child, 8d. You might almost imagine a grocer's shop with these poor little things ticketed up. It shows no imagination. It shows no wealth of knowledge of the nation we are trying to build up. Is it the little child's fault that it happens to be illegitimate, and why should the stigma always be put upon the child and not upon the parents? But that of course is a broader issue. At least the War Office, might undertake to discriminate between the 6d. and 9d. for the warrant officer's and private soldier's illegitimate child. That is the sort of thing which makes one feel the utter hopelessness of ever expecting the Government to be humane. One always feels the official administration does not realise the human feeling under all these things. It is possibly useless to make these appeals, but I ask the Government in administering the affairs of the military machine whether they think their power 1990 is purely a temporary one, whether they appreciate that the League of Nations is going gradually to absorb their authority. That may be the reason for their not giving this matter the thought that one hoped they would. But this War has brought into being a totally different type of soldier. There is hardly a man capable of bearing arms in this country who has not borne arms in the war. In those circumstances there is a much keener appreciation of the Army and of military machinery than there was before. We are not now a country producing highly trained expeditionary and punitive forces, but a country which has produced the greatest and most efficient military machine that has ever been produced either in peace time or war time. That means that we have drilled and trained some five millions of the pick of the manhood of this country who have gone over the whole gamut and know the Army as well as Kipling knows it. It is those men we are thinking of to-day, and we want the War Office to think of those men whose eyes have been opened during the last five years and whose knowledge of the Army has become too intimate for really inefficient administration.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I protest against a Bill of this seriousness passing through the House at this hour of the morning. It may be that I have as little sympathy with the hon. Member who raised this matter of the death sentence being involved in this Bill as the hon. Gentleman who spoke on the other side, but there is considerable public feeling against the death sentence being left simply in the hands of one man to decide. I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that the general on whom it depends finally as to whether a man should die must be a man of the finest type. It does credit to him that something like 89 per cent. of these men have been reprieved, but I think that it is a responsibility which we should place upon no one man.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
There are four generals who consider the matter, so that it does not devolve on a single man.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Though I cannot speak as one of extensive service, I can speak as a private soldier when I say that there is considerable feeling among men in the ranks upon this particular question, and the fact that a Bill such as this, which 1991 may involve the lives of men in years to come, can go through this House at such a time is a very serious matter indeed. As a Member of this House, I protest against this Bill being taken at such a late hour, and I say also as an ex-private soldier and as a representative of the public of this country, that the time has arrived—and that is the feeling in the country and in the ranks—when we ought to abolish the death sentence in the British Army. I think it would do credit to the Government if they could at least give this as a kind of charter and a memorial to the men who have served, so that in days to come, whatever they may have to suffer for their sins, they will not have the fear of death hanging over them for any momentary failure to do their duty.
Mr. T. WILSON
I fully agree with what the last speaker and the hon. Member for Wrekin (Mr. Palmer) have said. The War Office never learns anything and never forgets anything. The provisions of this Bill will not make service in the Army popular. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) is in the clouds as far as the feelings of the private soldier are concerned. If he doubts my word, will he investigate the reason why the men who have, left the Army are not joining the Territorial Army? I will tell him the reason. Men who have been in the Army speak publicly and advise not only their sons, but the men in the towns and villages not to join even the Territorials. That is a matter which the War Office ought to recognise. The points I raised in regard to Clause 17 and Clause 22 also adversely affect the minds of the people whom the War Office would like to see join the Army. A large number of the men who desire to purchase their discharge from the Army are the sons of widows and of old men—of widows who have sacrificed sons in the Army, and who, when they ask for the release of a younger son who has joined the Army, are told that £20 must be paid. What is the feeling that exercises their minds? The War Office will not recognise that men and women have any feeling at all. That is the failing of the War Office. The War Office ought to recognise that it is not the young fellow in the Army who has to find the £20, but that it is the widowed mother or the 1992 old father and mother together. I do not know whether it is possible for the War Office to make some amendment of this Bill with the House of Lords, but I hope that some effort will be made. In the case of Clause 22, why should a man, a single man in many instances, be let off with a contribution of a shilling for the maintenance of a child of which he is the father? Why should the War Office contribute three shillings in the case of a sergeant and only one shilling in the case of a private? The bastard child of the one requires the same amount of nourishment as that of the other. I hope the War Office will do something to put them on the same level. There is another thing the War Office ought to recognise. The very fact that field punishment No. 1 is still retained will prejudice recruiting for the Army. We want to see a contented as well as an efficient Army, and to satisfy the people who believe in the humane treatment of men who go into the Army.
§ Sir. A. WILLIAMSON
If it were not for the remarks of the last speaker I would not intervene again, but the hon. Gentleman seems to me to be under a false impression as to the attitude of the War Office towards the soldier. The whole of the amendments in this Bill are in the direction of giving benefit to the soldier with the exception of one case. There has been a necessary rise in the case of discharge in the case of those who join and who wish to get out within three months. All the changes in connection with the law of court-martial are in the direction of giving the soldier more advantage than he had before. A very influential Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject, and was very well able to judge it. They examined a number of witnesses who had experience in the Army and at the Front, and from other armies. They went into the matter exhaustively, and made very valuable recommendations. The War Office as far as possible wish to seize this, the earliest opportunity, to put into the Army Act those improvements in the lot of the soldier.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
Generals, Colonels, Majors, Captains, Sergeants, and Privates—all have been consulted, and the Government have put in all the 1993 measures which they could deal with promptly. Others of a more difficult character have been remitted to' a Committee in order that the King's Regulations shall be revised and simplified, and to enable the whole of the question of punishments to be gone over, with a view to adopting the various recommendations of the Committee. That is an attitude of sympathy towards the soldier, and not an attitude, as represented by the hon. Member, of stirring up things against him by the War Office, which he said never learned anything.
§ Mr. H. SMITH
I think the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Wilson) from his remarks has very little conception of the effects of this Bill. He protested against a proposal whereby there is more in the case of a sergeant than in the case of a private soldier in respect of an illegitimate child. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that this existed in our Civil Courts for many years. The way in which damages are measured in those courts, is the position of the father to pay. It would be perfectly ridiculous if a man with a hundred thousand pounds had to pay only the same as a man who had, say, £2 per week.
§ Mr. H. SMITH
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's remark. I am pointing out how unhappy were his criticisms of the Bill. In this Bill you find that system rellected. The man pays according to his ability to pay, and the War Office says: "If you are a sergeant you are able to pay more than if you are a private." The hon. Member protested against the price at which a man can be bought out of the Army, but has he forgotten that it costs twice as much to keep a soldier in the Army as in the old days, and has he forgotten that the £ of yesterday is only worth 10s. to-day? If you are increasing the pay and the cost of maintenance of a soldier, it is only reasonable that you should also increase the price at which a soldier can buy himself out of the Army. It is no good putting forward these sentimental appeals on behalf of a probably imaginary widowed mother, having regard to the increased cost of living and the decreased value of the sovereign. I am sorry the hon. Member for Wrekin (Mr. Palmer) is not in his place. There seems to be a total misunderstanding of the very 1994 valuable contribution which the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) made to the debate on the subject of the death sentence. If the remarks of the hon. Member for Wrekin and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Law-son) meant anything, they were meant to convey to the House a protest against circumstances which render it possible for any soldier to receive the death sentence without grounds of appeal, and the suggestion behind the argument was that the soldier was thus deprived of justice.
§ Mr. H. SMITH
I did not wish to waste the time of the House in replying to that point, but if I understood the hon. Member right, he, in common with the hon. Member for Wrekin, objected to the fact that a soldier subjected to the death sentence had no right of appeal.
§ Mr. H. SMITH
I thought the hon. Member allied himself with the arraignment of the hon. Member for Wrekin, and if that appeal meant anything it was a protest against depriving a soldier of a certain amount of justice. If I may say so respectfully, that is all nonsense, and it has been completely exposed as nonsense by the hon. Member for Mossley. By placing these great powers in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief, you are really in the great majority of cases, rightly or wrongly, giving the man, not justice, but opportunities for continuing his life which he would not have if he were brought before anything which corresponds with our Court of Criminal Appeal. If you once gave to that man the legal right to go before a purely legal tribunal and appeal on the facts and on the law, he would get the facts and the law, but he would get no sympathy. He will get no sympathy, but he will get justice. Let me remind the hon. Member for the Wrekin Division what sort of justice it will be—not the sort of justice I think he means, in which the guilty man will be convicted and the innocent man acquitted. That is not the case to-day. Under the present system, without the Court of Appeal, in the Army the man is not judged by cold law and cold facts. He comes under a code of sympathy 1995 which weighs the balance in his favour at the hands of the Commander-in-Chief. That, strictly speaking, is not justice, because in many cases the guilty man is spared. I would respectfully suggest to the hon. Member for the Wrekin Division that if he is going to call in the cold justice of the Court of Criminal Appeal, or anything like that, many soldiers will be convicted who under the present system would not be convicted; they will have no chance and no opportunity of escape. I think this is an unreal debate. The speeches we have listened to or the arguments that have been put forward have been such as to justify this debate.
§ Major O'NEILL
I want to put one or two considerations before the hon. Baronet who has spoken for the War Office. He said there was a Committee sitting to consider and recommend to his Department, first, the re-drafting of the whole code of military law, and, secondly, what should be done with the scale of punishments. I want to suggest that it would be most desirable that the Committee should have an opportunity of con- 1996 sulting the Overseas Dominions, because, as I suppose everybody knows, the various contingents from the Dominions come under the Army Acts in war time, so that any question of punishment and the whole code of military law affects our Dominions as much as it does the Home Army. We hope in future years, if called upon, the Dominions will be as effective as they were in the recent war. I have no doubt, therefore, that this consideration will have due weight with the Committee which has been referred to.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Thursday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Twenty - eight minutes before One o'clock.